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A Living Trilogy: Leatherback Turtles,
Jaguars and Manatees
STRI Panama

Hector Guzmán thinks we all have an amazing opportunity to contribute directly to conservation science. His work on corals at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute contributed to the establishment of Panama’s Coiba National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Pacific.

Now he has turned his attention to three charismatic endangered species in Western Panama’s San San Pond Sak wetland: the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle, the jaguar and the West Indian manatee. By monitoring the movements of these animals, Guzman and colleagues will reveal how all three species use this rich ecosystem. Research-based tourism projects contribute to local government’s efforts to protect wildlife. Scientific data will also improve co-management strategies for the protected area.

The San San Pond Sak wetland forms part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve spanning the border area between Panama and Costa Rica. Only a decade ago, on the beaches in the area nearly all eggs layed were harvested and a significant number of nesting leatherbacks were killed.

Leatherback turtle

Females return to the same beach where they were born to lay eggs several times during a nesting season. If the 80-some eggs in each nest haven’t been eaten by vultures or wild dogs, or collected by people, they hatch about two months later.

Hector Guzman placed this satellite transmitter on a leatherback turtle.
The photo was taken in red light so as not to confuse turtles as they come onshore to nest.

Reaching up to 8 feet in length and weighing up to a ton, leatherbacks are the largest turtle species and the fastest swimmers.


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