In writing about Belize recently, I had mentioned time spent with a tapir, favored in the diet of jaguar throughout Central America. The photo above was taken on property at the lodge my posts were referring to. Rule of thumb, it seems to me, is that a jaguar population requires relatively pristine nature to be sustainable, and that seems to be the case where this photo was taken. But what do I know, really? I am dedicated to entrepreneurial conservation but I am not a biologist so I depend on experts to inform my thinking, and to discipline it with a heavy dose of realism. In reading this post from earlier today I am better prepared to think about the mission of Chan Chich Lodge (more on which in a subsequent post), and the history of the 30,000 acre wilderness conservation area that it sits on:
At one time, the venerable 150 year old Belize Estates Company owned roughly one fifth of the entire country, about one million acres including much of the northwest corner of the country. From the turn of the century until the 1960’s, timber, mainly mahogany, cedar and santa maria, were selectively logged from this area. Gallon Jug, originally a logging camp located where the current GJ offices are, was named after a B.E.C. foreman, Austin Felix, discovered many discarded items from a Spanish camp, including a number of ceramic gallon jugs.
During the mid-1980s, Belize Estates Company was purchased by Belizean Barry Bowen and subsequently divided into four parcels. The parcel retained by Bowen [was] over 130,000 acres, and with the Rio Bravo Conservation area to the north, gives protection to about 400,000 acres of tropical forest. Farming efforts at Gallon Jug farm (a cleared area of less than 3,000 acres) now focus on coffee, cacao and an ambitious cattle project using English Hereford bloodlines to improve local stock. It is hoped that these agricultural activities will allow the remainder of the land to remain forested.
In 1985, when Barry Bowen led a crew of bushmen to the old site of Gallon Jug to start the process of re-opening the area, one of the men in the party, an old chiclero named Tenico, mentioned a long-forgotten chiclero camp named “Santa Maria”, which was located next to a large Maya site near the Chan Chich Creek. The next time that Barry flew out from Ambergris Caye, Tenico led him to this Mayan site. After chopping their way through the forest, they eventually got their first look of what was later to become the site of Chan Chich Lodge, which translates as “little bird” in Mayan.
In May of 1987, work began clearing the thick jungle underbrush. It soon became clear that the lower plaza would be perfectly suited for construction of the lodge, but it would be necessary to obtain official approval for the project from the Department of Archaeology. The commissioner himself spent a week at Chan Chich to supervise the digging of post holes and trenches, and determined that the construction was not damaging in any way since the old plaza floor was weathered beyond repair. Furthermore, the existence of the Lodge would protect the temples that had been heavily looted, not to mention discourage the hunting and growing of marijuana that had been common for decades.
Trees harvested from the newly cleared fields were processed and used in the construction of the lodge; posts, stick and thatch harvested from the surrounding jungle. All of the finished milling was done at Chan Chich, as well as the construction of all the windows, doors and beds. The Lodge was opened on December 4, 1988 to a group of seven adventurous tourists who had no idea what to expect.