In March, I had the chance to visit our first project site, the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Belize. In the 1980s, our founder, Rob Horwich visited Belize. Some colleagues told him if he wanted to see black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra), or “baboons” as they are called locally, he needed to hitch a ride to the ferry at the village of Bermudian Landing along the Belize River and look for a big fig tree, where you could always find the monkeys. Rob did and he found the monkeys. Then he found that communities are a powerful way to conservation biodiversity.
More than forty years later, the monkeys are going strong with an estimated population of around 5,000. The seven communities that founded the Community Baboon Sanctuary continue to protect the trees that provide food and homes to the howlers and the tree corridors and riparian edges of the Belize River that that howlers use to travel in the area. The community names are magical: Flowers Bank, Scotland Half-Moon, Isabella Bank, St. Paul’s Bank, Willows Bank, Double Head Cabbage, and Bermudian Landing.
The sanctuary continues to be a success because of the dedication of individuals within the communities. They continue to work to conserve the monkeys and the environment. More than 20 years ago, the management of the sanctuary transitioned to the Community Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Conservation Group, founded by Jessie Young. She founded the group in response to a declining commitment from the original group of male landholders who had created the sanctuary. The group of women, one from each village, manages the area and activities supported by it, such as an annual summer camp for local youth. They are also building a new museum to share the history and mission of the sanctuary.
And the story continues because threats to the monkeys and their forests continue. Jessie and her son, Conway, the sanctuary manager, and the women on the board are carrying on the legacy and mission of the sanctuary, continuing to inspire and motivate the broader community. Their priorities are to raise awareness about the mission and goals of CBS with new landowners in the area, help landowners understand the impact of their land use choices on the environment and the howler monkeys, and manage community expectations of the sanctuary. We are grateful for their dedication to carrying on the work.