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Sport Hunting Helping the Ocellated Turkey

Subsistence and market hunting nearly eliminated the North American wild turkey during the 19th century. Regulated sport hunting, with its strict game laws, professional wildlife agencies and conservation-minded hunters, saved the bird from extinction by raising its value above the price of a meal.

The North American wild turkey is now flourishing, but populations of another species of wild turkey, the ocellated turkey of Guatemala, Belize and southern Mexico, are diminishing under the same problems that plagued its North American cousin.

Lovett Williams is a former chief of the Florida Bureau of Wildlife Research and owns some hunting camps in Guatemala and Belize. He is trying to convince locals they can feed their families longer by guiding sport hunters looking to bag an ocellated turkey than by hunting the birds for food.

The ocellated turkey is one of six turkeys hunters must take in order to complete the World Slam of turkey hunting. Hunters pay $3,000 or more to fly to Guatemala, travel into the ocellated turkey's rainforest home, stay in rustic huts and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. This money helps ensure the survival of the bird and its habitat and provides economic incentives to locals to follow a wildlife conservation and hunting plan similar to the one that has been so successful in North America.

"Most of the money for the hunts goes to people living in the area," said Williams. "They get about two thirds of the money. The bird that used to feed their families for a day will now feed their families for months."

According to Williams, many Guatemalans are beginning to understand the need to protect the ocellated turkey. They are limiting their harvests and seasons, putting an end to market hunting and only harvesting males.

"They have realized that if they hunt the ocellated turkey to extinction they will lose their new livelihood," Williams said.

Williams employs Guatemalans as guides, cooks and helpers at his camps in Guatemala and plans to hire locals at his new camp in Belize.

Tom Hughes, an NWTF biologist, believes that the North American conservation model will work in Central America.

"Hunters are going to save the ocellated turkey in South America," said Hughes. "The same as they did for the white-tailed deer and the wild turkey."

To learn more about the ocellated turkey visit our "All About Wild Turkeys" page at http://www.nwtf.org/for_hunters/all_about_turkeys.html or call 803-637-3106.

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