Wilber Martinez


Wilber Martinez

National Coordinator
Since: 2008
Languages: Spanish, English
Expertise: Avian research, Resource Management

“It’s my passion to protect wildlife and its habitat. Where I used to live in northern Belize much of the forest has been cut down for sugarcane production. In central and southern Belize there are still so many forests that can be protected. That’s why I began my career in central Belize.”

Year Started at Runaway Creek

I began in 1996 with the inception of the Birds Without Borders program. In 2003 I went to The University of Belize to finish a bachelors degree in general biology with an emphasis on research and natural resources. Everything Birds Without Borders started in 1996. That’s when i started as a field research assistant. At that time Omar was the National Coordinator. I was promoted to site supervisor in 1998 and then I came back in 2008 as the National Coordinator.

Areas of experience

Birds Without Borders gave me a start in avian research because when I first started the program I was just coming out of high school. They helped form my career in research and eventually on to general biology and natural resource management.

What are your daily responsibilities?

My responsibilities have been very intense especially over the last year. I started as an assistant to reserach but now as the National Coordinator I’m also dealing with the staff and getting in contact with other organization that could assist Birds Without Borders. For example, I have to be in contact with the Foresty Department so that they can be involved in patrols of Runaway Creek and so that we can become better recognized in Belize. My responsiblities are continually increasing. I started in research and now I’m moving more and more toward management. It’s definitely a learning experieince for me. Dealing wiht different perosnalities in the program – some of them have their own different repsonsiblites and private lives – it all creates a very complex situation. I supervise the genaral staff, do monthly assessments. The hardest part is to get their attention when they’re not doing business. That’s all part of the job.

Which of your responsibilities do you find most fulfiling?

That’s a very intersting question. The most fulfilling thing at Runaway Creek is the fact that we can go out there and see nature and see the animals and the birds naturally. Because you can always see it on the internet and TV but getting into the forest and the caves you get that connection witih the wilderness and the animals.

How did you originally come to Runaway Creek?

In belize the only connection we have to get a job is through the newspaper. I have a habit of reading newspapers. I was reading and saw a reserach project at the Belize Zoo and so I sent my applicaiton. Sharon Matola was the one who interviewed me. That’s how i first got to know about Birds Without Borders. At that time we didn’t have any internet connection or telephone at my village – only newspaper. Birds without borders began in 1996 with two study sites. The one was at the Belize Zoo and the other was in Cayo district. The vision of Dr. Boese is not just to have a project with a final end date but rather a vision to expand and protect the neotropical migrants. Through the funds of The Foundation for Wildlife Conservation we were able to purchase Runaway Creek. We then began to study avian reserach at Runaway Creek. After the five year project at Runaway Creek then we began to do a rapid ecological asssement. That was very exciting for the staff. That’s when we started to first explore the caves and make a checklist of the mammels, reptiles, amphibeans, orchids, and vegetation. Birds Without Borders is the organization that really helped us with our careers and getting us to Runaway Creek. I must note that Dr. Boese had a vital role in Birds Without Borders and the preservation of Runaway Creek.

What do you think intially drew you toward conservation?

It’s my passion to protect wildlife and its habitat. Where I used to live in northern Belize much of the forest has been cut down for sugarcane production. In central and southern Belize there are still so many forests that can be protected. That’s why I began my career in central Belize.

What is your favorite part of working in conservation?

To be honest, it’s being out in the field doing reserach and collecting data. That’s the most amazing thing that a conservationist can do. Get data from the flora and fauna and use that data to design methodologies to conserve them. Because just seeing the aesthetics is good, but I think we need go further and go beyond that to protect nature. That’s where reserach comes in. We establish the necessary data to establish laws to conserve the habitat. Runawy Creek is vital to the connection of areas within Belize. It provides more power an credibility when you approach the situation with facts and data. You can approach the situation as a romantic but we need data on flora and fauna to come up with solution to protect them. The facts go together with education because we provide the informaiton to primary educators to teach them what we have in the forest and what we need to conserve the flora and fauna.

What does Runaway Creek represent to local conservation in Belize?

Runaway creek is strategically position in central Belize. There are two big blocks of forest in Belize. To the north is the Selva Maya and in the southern in the Chicabool Maya Mountains area. Runaway Creek is at the center of these two blocks and it forms a connectivity of these two blocks. The concentration of populations is at the center of Belize between Belize City and the Cayo District. There are a lot of villages along the Western Highway. Runawy Creek connects these two big blocks so wildife can pass through between the two blocks. The other apsect is that we are conserving the arhcaelology aspect of the preserve. The caves, Mayan tools, and potteries. This is important because development is happening in Belize. On the western side of the preserve there is a huge orange farm. If there is development they usually clear cut. Runaway Creek is not destined for that. It is for conservation of flora and fauna. There are so many hundreds of things that we still have to discover at Runawy Creek. Runway Creek has so much potential for more research and to generate more funds. But who knows about it? So few people. We need to reach a wider audience. We need to update the public with research, pictures, and new content. If we are going to be sustainable we need to market Runaway Creek and not only to Belizians but worldwide. At one time in the future Runawy Creek needs to be sustainable so we can run the preserve. We need to incorporate multiple stake holders. We need to incorporate research, ecotourism, and other potential donors. We cannot do it alone. We need to bring in more people that have that vision. Dr. Evers is bringing in reserachers to do mercury sampling. This gives us the power to approach other organizations and show them the data and facts. Eventually it would be great to have a website where people could make their ecotourism reservations right on the website.

What do you see as the mission of Runaway Creek

The mission is to conserve flora and fauna for future genererations. This is the overall goal. I would say that Runawy Creek provides work for Belizians in research, training Belizians to become researchers and conservationists, and in the apsect of capacity building we are doing work with the Spyder Monkeys, birds, bats, Jaguars, and archaeology. Education is the third key factor that we need to do at Runaway Creek. We are a very small staff and if we spread our staff too small we become ineffective. We are priimary involved in reserach and patrolling. But we need to do more education campaigns but to do that we need more funds. We need a team that will collect the data, design the flyers, posters, brochures. We have rangers that go out into the field every day. I am the only one that is in the office.

How do you see education in the role of Runaway Creek’s mission?

When i finished my degree at The Univsersity of Belize I took a job in environmentnl education. I used to visit primary schools, high schools, I used to give lectures related to conservation and the protection of wildlife. It was all very intersting because we used the Scarlet Macaw as the mascot or ambassador of the forest. We have a big mascot of a parrot and whenever I’d go to school the mascot would give the kids the attraction to nature and while the mascot was dancing I would give the key points of the lecture. The macaw gave me a very good perspective of how Runaway Creek could improve the relationship with the adjacent communities. We need to include the people around. And the only way we can do that is through education.

Did you have any turning point in your passion for nature and conservation?

That’s from a very young age. I grew up in the country with my grandfather planting corn, beans, and rice. I spent most of my time out in the field instead of living in cities or towns. At the age of ten years I first got hooked on nature – observing the birds and the wildlife. It was just the romanticisim of loving nature. When i started working with Birds Without Borders I began to change my view of just loving nature to conserving and protecting. In other words it’s in the Mayan blood. [laughing] We are part of nature.

What is one of your most memorable days at runaway creek?

I have very many of them. The most unique is canoeing down the Cibon River at around 4:00am to do bird banding and misnetting. It’s very chilly. You can see wild tapir, birds, different wildlife. When we used to do bird banding and misnetting we used to camp on the edge of the Cibon River and cook together. It gives you an internal peace. You have that connection with nature. You have the noise of traffic and people in the cities all around. Especially early in the morning it’s so calm.

What would be one thing you would might communicate to people given your unique set of experiences in nature?

I think everything comes down to your dreams. What you wish to accomplish. Whether you come from a big city, a small town or village. If you feel the call to work out in reserach in nature with conservation you need to contact the right people and be consistent in sending your applications. I sent applications to every NGO in Belize over and over again. You need to follow your dreams and pursue objectives to work in conservation. You won’t always be able to do exactly what you want to do. But when that opportunity comes you need to go for it. Right here in Belize it’s more competitive. It’s very limited. The only conservation jobs are with NGO’s or the government. So once they interview you they will just go with your experience and hire based on that. That’s why it’s important to volunteer your time in conservation in preparation. You need to participate to build you resume. Coming out strait from high school I had no experience. Volunteering gave me the future I have now.


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