Hey y’all! So I’ve been in Belize for a couple days now and it’s been really great already. The first day was a bit rough because we had 4 hours of delays until the plane finally took off but I got some important napping time in so there was that. When we got here we were taken to from the airport to the Tropical Education Center (TEC) where we are currently staying. That was a nice ride to really take some time to enjoy taking in the new landscapes and everything.
When we got to the TEC I found out I was the only guy out of 18 people. Which was pretty exciting because it means I got my own room to get comfortable in and set up my stuff. The first night we mostly just got to explore the TEC which is very integrated into the forest out it so it’s very cool to be staying in. And we also got our first official Belizean meal, rice and beans chicken and plantains, which was delicious.
The second day was primarily dedicated to putting our roots down in the program like getting necessary background information, learning the itinerary and getting to explore some local areas.
Yesterday was a day we had all been waiting for because it was our first full day at the zoo! We started by getting to see behind the scenes work on the zoos Problem Jaguar Rehabilitation Program. This program takes in local jaguars who are having issues with the local community often because they are preying on livestock or dogs in the area. Normally jaguars don’t do this but almost all of these “problem jaguars” had some kind of injury which made them prey on easier targets since wild hunting wasn’t feasible. Along with this it creates a general fear of jaguars in Belize even though they’re not known to attack humans and are usually very avoidant of us. So the Belize Zoo makes a lot of effort of not just having people come to enjoy the animals but to also be educated by them and to build a bond with them. These efforts have helped a lot over the years to reduce stigma about certain animals like jaguars and many others at the zoo. Public education is one of the biggest components of the zoo’s conservation programs because it lets everyone play a part and get involved.
After the seeing the jaguars we got some really cool hands on experience with the tapirs, the National Animal of Belize. They’re super adorable and we’re fairly easy to work with. The tapirs here were docile and we got to practice general diagnostic work on them like listening to heartbeat, breathing and digestion. To start we’d do a “scratch down” on them which is when you just scratch them like you would your dogs at home and the tapirs and they lay right down which is kind of comical.
The rest of the day we got to check out all the other animals at the zoo which all are local animals that are part of rehabilitation programs and play a dual role of educating and engaging the public. There are very cute poetic stories painted on signs around the park about each of the animals which gives all of them a lot of personality and it seems to help in engaging people. These often are to dispel fears the public has about them or tell that specific animal’s story of how it was rescued.
It has been really exciting so far and I can’t wait to see do more. Soon we’ll be working on enrichment projects for the animals at the zoo so I’ll be keeping those in mind in the mean time.