Feature
An American Crocodile basking in the sun in the Black River Lower Morass. Crocodiles are being threatened by acts of poaching and loss of habitat. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has been working to locate wetlands that can be designated sanctuaries for the reptile.
Photo: Contributed

Story Highlights

  • The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), has been playing its part by vigorously protecting Jamaica’s wildlife in many ways.
  • A significant one is through the Wildlife Protection Act, 2000, which protects hundreds of species that make up the rich biodiversity in Jamaica’s wildlife from exploitation and danger. While the Act states what is protected, it also lists animals and plants that are not protected under Law.
  • “The Wildlife Protection Act states that all native birds are protected. In Jamaica we have over 300 species of birds, some are native and some are migrant and those are protected. The Act goes on to say, however, all birds are protected except those listed in a particular Table or Schedule and those birds that are listed are those that are domesticated or introduced,” NEPA’s Environmental Coordinator for Fauna in the Ecosystems Management Branch, Ricardo Miller, tells JIS News.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), has been playing its part by vigorously protecting Jamaica’s wildlife in many ways.

A significant one is through the Wildlife Protection Act, 2000, which protects hundreds of species that make up the rich biodiversity in Jamaica’s wildlife from exploitation and danger. While the Act states what is protected, it also lists animals and plants that are not protected under Law.

“The Wildlife Protection Act states that all native birds are protected. In Jamaica we have over 300 species of birds, some are native and some are migrant and those are protected. The Act goes on to say, however, all birds are protected except those listed in a particular Table or Schedule and those birds that are listed are those that are domesticated or introduced,” NEPA’s Environmental Coordinator for Fauna in the Ecosystems Management Branch, Ricardo Miller, tells JIS News.

Environmental Coordinator for Fauna in the Ecosystems Management Branch, at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), Ricardo Miller.

This list excludes birds, such as chickens and the common pigeon from protection as these birds are domesticated and also living in the wild. Protected by law are also the many sanctuaries, 18 game reserves, and more than 100 forest reserves across the island.

It is important to note that forest reserves are considered game reserves, and while forests are managed by the Forestry Department, the wildlife that call these forests home are protected under the Wildlife Act.

“There are no protected plants, but there are protected forests. The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, for example, which is in a protected area – a forest reserve where there is no cutting of trees. There are several hundred species of plants encompassed in that,” states Mr. Miller.

He explains that plant trade is regulated. For example, the trade of orchids is regulated by NEPA and a permit is required for its overseas sale, but the plant itself is not protected under the Act. It is, however, protected by virtue of its habitat if it grows in a forest reserve.

Internationally, wildlife is classified into eight categories by the International Union for Conservation of Nature to indicate the health of the world’s biodiversity and to inform the type of conservation and policy change needed for their continued existence. These categories are data deficient, extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, and least concern. For each category, species are evaluated based on their risk of extinction in the wild.

“Think of it like a pyramid. You’d have few species that are critically endangered, a few more that are endangered and the pyramid gets bigger towards the base, with least concern having the largest amount. Most of our species are of least concern like our doctor bird, but we do have a game bird, the white crown pigeon, that is listed as a threatened species, but there is a strong population in Jamaica,” Mr. Miller says.

Variance in global wildlife populations and local numbers led to Jamaica having its own list of endangered species, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, 2000.

Listed under this Act are species such as the American Crocodile found in Jamaica and the critically endangered Jamaican Iguana. NEPA has employed various approaches to protect these particularly vulnerable endemic species.

With the Jamaican Iguana, in particular, NEPA has been working with various partners to increase the population of the species. When several iguanas were rediscovered in 1990, the Head Start Programme began to grow the iguanas to a formidable size in a secured space. The programme was spearheaded by the Jamaica Iguana Recovery Group (JIRG), which included the Hope Zoo, NEPA, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), the University of the West Indies and international partner groups.

The Jamaican Iguana is critically endangered, and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and partner agencies have taken several approaches to increase the local population.

Once hatched, the iguanas would be taken to and raised in the Hope Zoo. Before they are released back into the wild, they go through health screenings and are tagged for monitoring. The JIRG also ensured that the iguanas were returned to a safer habitat.

“They set up a comprehensive predator control mechanism right throughout their habitat, so they had traps open 24 hours per day. These traps were designed to catch mongoose, wild cats, wild dogs, and wild pigs. All those are invasive species and predators of the iguana. JIRG used to bring back 100 per cent of the hatchlings to the Hope Zoo and they have started to bring back less. They are allowing some of the young ones to fend for themselves, because the ultimate goal is for the animal to breed and flourish in the wild without human intervention,” Mr. Miller explains.

The American Crocodile, like the iguana, has received its own targeted approach to its protection and habitat conservation. NEPA has and continues to study the crocodile to gather the population number, distribution and movement, while seeking to identify wetlands that can be called sanctuaries for the reptile.

“For our on-the-ground efforts, we are looking at captive breeding or ranching where a nest may be relocated from an area where it is threatened and we will bring it to a confined area at a facility and hatch those eggs. We will keep those youngsters until a particular age and then we will release them. This programme is still in its infancy, so we have not done any releases as yet,” Mr. Miller says.

NEPA is also responsible for the enforcement of the laws that protect the country’s wildlife and has, in the past, prosecuted individuals found in breach of the Acts and currently has persons before the courts.

The Agency embarked on a ‘Croc-Wise’ educational outreach targeting communities and schools around crocodile habitats, to develop an appreciation for the reptile in youth and community members.

“Over the years, we have seen an improvement in the number and types of calls we have received, where more persons are calling NEPA rather than taking matters into their own hands when they encounter wildlife like the crocodiles, snakes, and dolphins,” Mr. Miller says.

The extensive work of the agency in the areas of protection and control has been assisted through partnerships with entities such as Jamaica Customs Agency, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) in Jamaica. These entities partner with NEPA in enforcement and clamping down on poaching and the international sale of wildlife.

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