The Black Howler Monkey Sanctuary is known as the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) was established on the 23rd February 1985 and is located on the northern coastal plain of Belize. It is geographically centered on the Village of Bermudian Landing in the lower Belize River Valley (Longitude 17o 55’ 65”N; Latitude: -88o 53’ 07” W). The CBS is an IUCN Category IV protected area but it is a Community Conserved Area where individual landowner participation is completely voluntary and based on a pledge system. The present membership is some 170 landholders and includes members of seven area villages, Flowers Bank, Scotland Half-Moon, Isabella Bank, St. Paul’s Bank, Willows Bank, Double Head Cabbage, and Bermudian Landing. The CBS covers around 5,179 hectares.
The Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) is unlike any other protected area or wildlife sanctuary in Belize. The nature and functioning of the CBS are completely embedded within the seven Belize River Valley communities that comprise it and it is inextricably linked to the Kriol culture and history of the region. The sanctuary nature of the CBS exists because of the long-held cultural appreciation for the black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) by the people that co-inhabit the region. Villagers in the Belize River Valley have never hunted howlers for food and rarely engaged in capturing them for pets or the pet trade. In fact, there is a deep-seated appreciation and enjoyment of the howlers and they have become part of the fabric of the rural lifestyle along the Belize River. Thus, humans and black howlers have co-existed in the Belize River Valley for generations. The formal establishment of the CBS in 1985 reflected a formal and external acknowledgment of the reality that a natural sanctuary for the howlers already existed.
The CBS has stood for 36 years as an example of community-based conservation that helped to define a whole new category of protected area in Belize and globally. More importantly, the CBS has had a catalytic effect on rural communities in Belize, Belizean NGOs, and the Government of Belize. This catalytic impact led to a wave of community-based conservation and ecotourism projects across Belize in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s and spawned the development of co-management agreements nationwide. In this way, the CBS is an important conservation presence in Belize and those associated with it have amassed up to 35 years of experience in working through the complicated dynamics involved in managing such a complex ecological and socio-economic landscape. Thus, the CBS is an important part of the conservation and sustainable development community in Belize and has earned a strong voice in the national conservation discussion.
Since the inception of the CBS, howler populations have increased somewhere in the range of 450 to 500% and the total population of howlers in the CBS is some 4,000 – 5,000 monkeys. This has clearly been a huge conservation success for the CBS and means that the CBS now maintains a viable population of howler monkeys that is somewhere near its carrying capacity. Management should thus shift in focus to maintaining a healthy and genetically diverse population rather than growing a population.
FOUR MAIN GOALS
With four main goals — Conservation, Education, Research, and Tourism — the CBS has become a model for other such sanctuaries throughout the world. The Sanctuary was founded by Dr. Robert Horwich, an American primatologist and Fallet Young, a landowner in the village of Bermudian Landing, in 1985 with the initial participation of 12 landowners. As it has grown, it has helped ensure the protection of not just Black Howler Monkeys, but many species of flora and fauna in the area. In 1998, the Women’s Conservation Group was formed, which currently manages the CBS.
The greatest threat to the monkeys continues to be habitat disturbance due to agriculture, logging and hunting. The Sanctuary was established to help address this threat by showing landowners the benefits of preserving their lands for the monkeys. The CBS works to make sustainable tourism an attractive alternative to destructive land management practices. At the same time, the Sanctuary helps educate both the local community and visitors about the importance of biodiversity and sustainability.