The Ocellated Turkey Meleagris ocellata in Chiquibul Forest, Belize, 1994–1996

 By: Tony King and Nicodemus Bol

 Published in: Cotinga Vol. 22 (2004), pp. 86–90.

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Abstract

El Guajalote Ocelado Meleagris ocellata es endémico de la Península de Yucatán, en Centroamérica. El Bosque Chiquibul, en el centro oeste de Belize, se encuentra en el límite sudeste de la distribución de la especie. Aquí se presentan observaciones informales sobre la distribución y biología de M. ocellata en Chiquibul, efectuadas durante los dos primeros años después de la apertura de una estación de investigación, entre julio de 1994 y agosto de 1996. Se encontró una población nidificante restringida al norte y oeste de los ríos Chiquibul, Monkey Tail y Lower Raspaculo, y probablemente continua con la población de Guatemala en el Petén norte. No se pudo establecer de manera fidedigna el estatus de esta población. En Las Cuevas, el cortejo comenzó en marzo. Tras cortejar a la hembra, el macho la monta y pisa, mientras ésta se mantiene agachada contra el piso, con las alas extendidas. Los nidos fueron hallados en mayo, en el suelo y entre la cobertura densa. Ocasionalmente se observaron hembras con polluelos, hasta una docena, en junio y julio. Parece que la mortalidad de los pollos resultó alta. Con el inevitable incremento de la presencia humana en el bosque, en parte debido a la mejora de los accesos y en parte a la colonización desde Guatemala, es probable que aumente la presión de caza. Para una especie de semejante valor nutricional, esta presión puede rápidamente amenazar la supervivencia de una población en el límite de su distribución natural, sin poder ser reforzada desde el sur o el este. Se recomienda una reevaluación de la distribución y estatus de M. ocellata en Chiquibul, y de las presiones que enfrenta la especie, para así implementar acciones que aseguren su supervivencia.

 

Introduction

Ocellated Turkey Meleagris ocellata is a large, striking gamebird endemic to the Yucatán Peninsula of Middle America17. Its conservation status is currently assessed as Near Threatened1,9 and the species’ range extends from north Belize west to east Chiapas, Mexico, and south to north Petén, Guatemala3,11. Distribution is patchy, with subsistence hunting being the major threat. The species is thought to be most common in Belize2, where Wood et al.18reported it in the northern hardwood forests and Mountain Pine Ridge, but noted its absence from the southern hardwood forests and coastal savannas. Ocellated Turkey is reported to have seriously declined in Belize during the 1980s, possibly due to disease4, although the cause has not been substantiated2. As elsewhere, subsistence hunting is now probably the major pressure.

Chiquibul Forest, in central-west Belize (Fig. 1), is at the south-eastern limit of the species’ range. In 1994 a research station was opened at Las Cuevas, in the heart of Chiquibul, permitting long-term observations of the local flora and fauna to be made for the first time. Here we present informal observations of the distribution and biology of M. ocellata in Chiquibul, made between July 1994 and August 1996.

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Conclusions

Chiquibul Forest appears to represent the extreme south-eastern limit of the range of M. ocellata. Observations in 1994–1996 indicated that a viable breeding population was present north and west of the Chiquibul, Monkey Tail and Lower Raspaculo rivers, and probably contiguous with the Guatemalan population of the northern Petén. However, the status of the population could not be reliably ascertained. Chick mortality appeared high, and the species exhibited a worrying complacency towards humans. With the inevitable increase in human presence in the forest, partially due to improved road access and partially due to mounting encroachment from Guatemala, hunting pressure will likewise increase. For a species of such high nutritional value, such pressure could quickly threaten the survival of a population on the limit of its natural range, with no possibility of reinforcement from the south or east. We recommend a rapid reassessment of the distribution and status of M. ocellata within Chiquibul, and of the pressures facing the species, with the aim of implementing action to ensure its continued survival.

Acknowledgements

We thank the Forest Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Belize, the Natural History Museum, London, and all the staff and volunteers at Las Cuevas Research Station in 1994–1996. Particular thanks to John Howell, Augustine Howe, Celia Bol and Natalie Rosado. 

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Tony King

Projet Protection des Gorilles, BP 13977, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.

Nicodemus Bol

Las Cuevas Research Station, P.O. Box 410, Belmopan, Belize.