Hey Everyone!! It’s been a week since we have last talked about my experiences, so I guess I am a little overdue with the past week of my life. I am adding pictures after I am back home, so I don’t have to struggle with the lagging wifi!
This was the first day of classes and was the most intense in regards to lectures. A majority of the day we spent in the classroom learning about wildlife research and the one health approach. I was actually really interested in the subject material, which was a delightful surprise and gave me a healthy dose of optimism. The beginning of the day we spent hiking through two different ecosystems around the tropical education center and learned about most plants and species with our friend Rey. Later at night, we were given a talk by the founder of the Belize Zoo, Sharon, who stressed conservation and education as her primary goals for the zoo. A majority of the animals were from the wild and were called in by the forestry department to be rehabilitated, but were unable to be released. During our night tour of the zoo, where we all got bit aplenty, we were able to watch jaguars, tapirs, and ocelots being fed and learned so much through the zookeeper’s extensive knowledge of the animals and their origins. We even got to see Junior, who was the first captive-born jaguar the zoo has ever seen! He does somersaults for his snacks.
So far, all the girls (and Josh) have seemed very friendly, and even though it took a few adjustments to get used to living with one another in very close quarters, we have managed. We started off the day with some breakfast and a trip to the zoo. We were introduced to many “problem Jaguars” being rehabilitated by the zoo. Problem Jaguars are jaguars that kill livestock that farmers would kill if they didn’t have the zoo to take them in. Currently, they had around 8-9 who were very uncomfortable with such a large crowd of people and showed aggression- as expected with wild animals. It was sad they couldn’t be re-released without returning to their poor habits. After we walked back to the clinic, we engaged in a competition and had to reconstruct a jaguar skeleton within 20 minutes! Both teams tied and after lunch, we had several tiebreakers which involved feeling bones within a bag and identifying them. My team won after the tiebreakers :)) and then we moved on to doing a fecal parasite lab and talking about zoos and their purpose in conservation. Many zoos in the states don’t do as much as they should with the money and supplies they have, and the way the Belize zoo differentiates is that these animals are in their natural habitat and not just exhibits, which puts stress and raises animals in environments different from what they are built for.
Once again we started off with breakfast at 7:30, since there are other groups at the tropical education center (2 showers 45+ girls to share!!). After we had a lecture in the upstairs classroom with Dr. Tellez, who told us about the Crocodile Research Coalition. She was super cool and such a good role model (as all the women on this trip have been- I call them badasses) and she showed us the crocodiles in the zoo and explained the backstories of them both. She changed my opinion on crocodiles and their “Evil” ways and showed me how they are important and should be conserved within the ecosystem, but are adaptable enough to not worry too much about their extinction. Did you also know the American crocodile was one of the greatest conservation efforts in history?? Later we had a Tapir Presentation and a radio collar presentation by Rey! Who is super helpful and has a wealth of knowledge. He taught us how to find radio collar signals using a transmitter in blistering heat in the savannah, but after all that sweating it was great to take a shower (don’t forget your shower shoes like I did).
I was looking forward to this day!!! It was all about remote drug delivery and the weather finally cooled down after a night of rain- it’s beginning to be the rainy season in Belize. We learned about how to chemically immobilize with the least amount of harm to the animal as possible, which is why it is the last resort. I didn’t know that and I was thankful to learn that before I started blowing darts here and there! Then we had our practical for remote drug delivery by using a shaft that we blew a fake homemade dart that our teams made into a block. I made it first try, but some people took a while which was comedic relief for a long day. We ended up ending a little earlier, so some people went to Belmopan, but I stayed back in the room to nap and read a book, because after almost 3 weeks of constant socialization and exposure to the same 12 other people, I needed some alone time to decompress. I am so thankful I did and got to dip in the pool before dinner, even though everyone seemed to have a good time going to the supermarket in the capital. We had delicious dinner, thanks to Juan Carlos and Edna who are the managers of the TEC and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. They remember our names and have always taken care of our dietary restrictions, like my friend Deanna’s.
Happy June!!! I was dreading this day, because it seemed so long to be out in the sun in the middle of the savannah at Runaway Creek Reserve, but I was delightfully surprised with how much fun I had and the cool temperature. There were swarms of mosquitoes surrounding us though, and I am very thankful I got minimal bug bites from the long sleeve I was wearing and the TONS of bug spray. I already had 40 bug bites from the previous few days despite the tons of bug spray I have been wearing!! Bugs just love me, but it’s DEFINITELY not reciprocated… We set up 3 mist nets really quickly with Rey so we could catch birds the following week (exciting), and set up 3 camera traps to take pictures of passing wildlife for our viewing pleasure after the following week of classes. We continued to hike for about an hour and explored several caves in the reserve. We spotted a barn owl, some Mayan paintings, and the guardian faces at the beginnings of Mayan caves. We also saw a previously set up camera trap and saw a picture of a jaguar that passed through the exact location as us 12 hours prior!!! It was the coolest thing I had ever seen and saw a barn owl as we were leaving the cave.
Today was the beginning of our weekend off and the start of our independent adventures. Half the group went to Caye Caulker with Lauren, who escorted them through the bus to Belize City and the other half (myself included) went to the ATM cave in the opposite direction. We caught the bus around 8 am, which was nothing more than a school bus, and much more pleasant than a Rutgers bus and paid $5 Belize to get to Tea Kettle. We arrive in our hiking boots, take the van to the picnic area where we begin our 45 minute stroll to the cave (it was barely a hike except for crossing the river which was neck deep for the people taller than me so you can imagine what it was like being 5’4″). Our tour guide and his son (Manuel and Alejandro) were really knowledgeable and would stop us every time there was something interesting along the hike. Once we reached the cave, we had to swim a short distance to get to a place where we could stand up, and for the next hour we were exploring cave formations, crawling through small spaces (which brought up my mild claustrophobia) all while under at least a foot of water. Once we reached a half mile into a 3.5 mile long cave, which seemed to have taken forever, we climbed about 20 feet to the dry area, where you had to remove your shoes in respect for the Mayan artifacts and skeletons. We saw many broken pots and about 5 total skeletons. Many were calcified into the rock, showing how long they had been there, and were scattered. It was SO cool to see older bones from Mayan sacrifices. Once we reached another part of the cave we had to climb a not-so-sturdy ladder into another part of the cave where the famous (the whole cave was named after it) crystallized female skeleton was, which was calcified and complete. It was one of the creepiest things to see a full human skeleton and try to imagine the person it was before it. It took a while to get out of the cave and was quite scary climbing down (I am also afraid of heights- so many phobias I know). Once we returned, we had a late lunch, an adventure back in the bus (which was completely safe and not confusing) and then had dinner back at the TEC. This night was the first heavy rain, which brought flood flies out, who are actually termites in disguise and are the worst bugs to have to deal with regardless of their lack of biting.
Sunday was a relaxing day full of naps, reading, and leisure time. Three people went to the zoo to shadow veterinarians, and Deanna, Dr. K, Jane (some oher badass female role models) and I went to Cheers to eat lunch and talked about Dr. K’s overnight tapir projects and whether or not she was able to catch and track any (she wasn’t). Afterwards, the shadowers from the zoo and the travellers to Caye Caulker returned and we all had dinner and the unifying battle against flood flies once again 🙁
Sorry for such a long post, there is so much to talk about and not enough words to describe every day and all that we learn and feel!!!