It was 31 degrees hot, humid and all too quiet at about 1700 on 18 August. I stood looking out over the Belize River as it meandered past. Above me, a committee of vultures perched high in a large tree waiting for dinner to arrive. On the ground, there was the occasional rustle of an iguana. Azure-crowned hummingbirds were feeding nearby. And we enjoyed flypasts by the occasional toucan and parrot.

The serene scene shattered by the loud calls from the howler monkeys. Proclaiming their existence and dominating their territory. This was an experience for all the senses and may as well have been a scene from Jurassic Park!

But it was not. This was my first volunteer role for Veterans for Wildlife, and I was on the ground in Belize with Mike and Wes. We were in-country to train a group of law enforcement officers. Focussing on intelligence and investigation techniques. Empowering them in their fight against wildlife crime in Belize. All in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

As I stood and admired the sights and sounds all around me, I reflected on how fortunate I was. Weeks of preparation had finally come together, and here I was, in Belize!

Mike and I shared responsibility for developing the course material. And so I began calling upon my old Met Police colleagues for some content. As well as investigating the challenges of fighting wildlife crime in Belize.

I found myself waking up early each morning and staying up late each evening. Studying the illegal logging of Rosewood. The unlawful fishing for conch and sea cucumber. As well as the dramatic decline of the Scarlet Macaw and jaguar, the iconic symbol of the Peruvian Amazon. This was right up my street. Learning and development, research and application. Bring it on! Let's see if we can make a positive impact, I thought.

And so, the lessons started, although I must first mention a little about Mike.

As well as being another volunteer instructor, he was also the team driver for the week. Now, if you have ever driven in Belize before you may know that they have the best speed bumps in the world. Not only will they cause your kidneys to try and move above your spleen, but they are also hidden from view. Mike seemed to find each bump that little bit too late. And Wes and I bounced around the car like children on pogo sticks after dinner. Mike also managed to drive the wrong way over a single lane bridge in Santa Elena, but he can tell you more about that. Wes and I did laugh a lot, though.

Day one in class is always exciting, and this group of students was no different. I challenged myself to learn everyone's names by the end of the week, which I did. Even though I was actually calling some people by their surnames most of the week.

The students came from various law enforcement agencies:

  • Police Force
  • Defence Force
  • Coastguard
  • Fisheries Department
  • Forestry Department
  • WCS

Their attention and participation grew throughout the week, and the feedback received was very positive. We worked through intelligence investigations, crime scenes, and interviewing all in one week. No mean feat in 31 degrees!

We spent the evenings savouring the local cuisine. Making notes for the next day's lessons and enjoying the incredible wildlife around us. We finally saw the howler monkeys, although my mobile phone camera only shows them as blobs. I promised my mother that they were there and showed her a picture on the internet. We usually ate at recommended places except once. Thank goodness Mike had some Imodium, and I haven't eaten chicken wings since.

One of my personal highlights of the course was definitely the witness event scene. I used two staff members from the hotel to help me reconstruct a robbery. I briefed my two new rising stars of the stage, and we manoeuvred half the students into place. Unbeknownst to them, of course.

The idea was that the students were to see an incident unfold, unaware of what was happening. They were then supposed to undertake individual interviews. But, the chef (the thief) fluffed his role! When one of the larger students stood upon hearing the commotion, the chef thought he was about to be shot. He ran back and hid in the kitchen. Now that's good acting!

On conclusion of the course, the Fisheries Department team invited us to join them on patrol for the day. Something that I was very much looking forward to. And I wasn't disappointed.

Hampton (first name) and Gomez (second name) looked after us superbly. It was great to hear the passion in Hampton's voice as he spoke. Describing the fishing areas, problems with poaching, overfishing and out of season fishing. We stopped several boats, found offences and issued warnings where appropriate.

All the research I had completed came together as I saw this work in practice. The coral atolls and clear waters were stunning, a treasure needing protection! We stopped for lunch on a small atoll, relaxed in the sun and swam in the sea. Reflecting on how fantastic this deployment had been.

Too soon we were on the way back, helping to wash down the boat and saying our goodbyes. We will be back later in the year to follow up on the student's course work and investigations. But I will definitely take my own driving licence next time!