Rare images of mountain lions, jaguars and ocelots have been captured by a British Army wildlife monitoring programme in the heart of the Belize jungle.
The British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) have joined forces with conservation charity Panthera to monitor and protect endangered wildlife as part of a three-year programme to ensure essential military training does not disturb local habitats.
Cameras set up to photograph the wild animals in the jungle were destroyed in fires this summer. But new cameras were purchased to continue the valuable work, capturing stunning images of rare animals in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserves – a 430 square-kilometre area roughly four times the size of Paris.
The Army’s and DIO’s unique, in-depth knowledge of the terrain meant they could set up the cameras in remote and unexplored parts of the jungle, uncovering the previously unseen movements of big cats and other wildlife in their natural habitats.
Their work has confirmed training has little impact on animal roaming patterns and instead found the presence of personnel in the Belize jungle deterred illegal poaching and logging – making it a safer place for exotic wildlife such as monkeys, jaguars and tapirs.
Defence Minister Jeremy Quin said:
Panthera is dedicated to the research and conservation of big cats, with a £14 million research programme in locations across Asia, the Americas and Africa.
Panthera Lead Research Biologist Emma Sanchez said:
BATSUB has been present in Belize since 1994, although training paused in 2010 before restarting in 2016. Since then, BATSUB has made significant contributions to protecting the environment through monitoring wildlife, planting trees and collecting data.
In 2019, using money from the £400,000 DIO Overseas Stewardship Fund, BATSUB, the DIO and the Belize Defence Force, staff and families planted 200 trees of 18 different species in Price Barracks.
The year before, BATSUB planted local fruit-bearing species, such as mango, craboou, soursop and custard apple in the Manatee Forest Reserve. These trees were planted to support indigenous black howler monkeys and spider monkeys.
BATSUB commander Lieutenant Colonel Simon Nichols MBE said:
DIO senior environmental adviser Richard Snow said:
Operating under a memorandum of understanding and the statement of forces agreement, BATSUB has a licence to train up to 3,750 personnel per year.
The training takes place across a network of government and privately-owned land, alongside the BDF and other foreign forces.
BATSUB jungle training is unpredictable and difficult. The environment gives troops the opportunity to train in a challenging terrain and an austere environment, equipping them with transferrable skills for other environments and operations.