Another Monday in Belize! On 6/4, we started the week with an introduction to Primatology with Jane Champion, the other instructor for the course. We learned about the two different species of monkeys in Belize, the black howler monkeys, and the spider monkeys. We then set out for the Community Baboon Sanctuary, a really special community run program in Belize. Seven villages all work together to ensure the native howler monkey population stays intact by not cutting down the trees from which the howlers get fruit from. We had a great lecture from one of the women that helps out at the CBS and she gave us a breakdown of the history of the center. They do a lot of outreach and aim to educate the public on how they too can help the howler monkeys. We then hiked through the jungle and found a wild troop of howler monkeys that were foraging for food. We had to look at them through our binoculars, but it was amazing getting to see actual wild animals doing what they as wild animals do.
The next day on the 5th, we went back to San Ignacio! I was really looking forward to this day because I craved familiarity. When we got into town and started passing through all the streets that we had walked in the first two weeks of the trip, a weight was lifted off of my chest and I felt a sense of calm come over me. It was like a home away from home that I was happy to be back to. Our first stop in San Ignacio was the Green Iguana Project, a Rehabilitation Program for green iguanas that is run at the San Ignacio Hotel. Evidently, green iguanas are often hunted for food here in Belize, so there are a lot of iguanas that are rescued with a number of injuries. We walked into the enclosure where we were able to just pick up the iguanas that were lounging around. They were a lot bigger than I was expecting, but a lot calmer too. They were super chill about being picked up and plopped onto your shoulder.
After the green iguana project, we actually headed back to Xunantunich! That’s where we went on the first Sunday of being in Belize in the Large Animal course, so it was cool to be back. We didn’t have a guided tour so we were able to explore the grounds more. There were a lot more people visiting and there were a lot more archeological digs going on as well. It was cool to see the restoration actively taking place. After Xunantunich, we had lunch at good ol’ Hode’s where we went a lot when staying at Midas, and again it was a great sense of familiarity. My heart was very warm in those moments.
Our next stop after lunch was to go to The Belize Raptor Center! We met with the owner and founder of the center, Sarah, who spoke to us about the history of the center and introduced us to the birds. They work to rehabilitate their raptors, even if that means teaching them how to hunt. She said that it can take years before a bird is able to be released back into the wild.
After meeting all of the raptors, we went inside and got to see two young grey hawks that were recently rescued. They weren’t in a cage— the one was on the ground and the other was sitting on the back of the couch. We all sat down as she showed us how to band the bird and while we were waiting, one of the hawks decided that my backpack was where he wanted to chill.
I really loved my time at the Raptor Center because it showed me that I really love being near raptors. I have never had any experience around these kinds of birds before, but after the few hours we spent at the Belize Raptor Center, I know for a fact that volunteering at a Raptor Center back home is at the top of my priorities.
The following day was an early one. We were up and out by five in the morning to head back to Runaway Creek. Wednesday, June 6th we were bird banding! Early morning is the best time to catch birds. When we were trying through Runaway Creek, however, the terrain had changed drastically from when we were there on Friday. What was once a dry savanna was now a flooded almost swamp (due to the heavy rains we had been having. Happy rainy season!) We ended up having to leave the van and hike the 20 minutes to the location where we needed to set up. We made it through and hiked through the jungle once again to open up the mist nets. They’re super thin and birds are great at getting tangled up in them. After 20 minutes we hiked back to check and gathered the birds we had caught. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate bird banding techniques and what data they gather when they band birds. We measured weight, wing length, determined sex when able, fat content and much more.
We got to do two rounds of netting and ended up banding eight birds in total. One of the birds had already had a band! Rey had talked about how in the past, they have had birds from Belize end up in Pennsylvania and Canada! I got to scribe for one of the bird bandings which was really cool! Making my mark. It was also really fun releasing the bird again and watching it fly off. Towards the end on our last bird, it started pouring out of nowhere. We had to scramble to protect the books and paperwork.
Even though we had an early start to the day, we still had a lot more to the day left. We went to the zoo and had zoo veterinary rounds. We went to different animals at the zoo and discussed illnesses and ailments they have or had and the right course of action. The day was long but it was super informative and cool to see the thought process behind diagnosing, for example, why a tapir is walking around in circles all day long. (In the case of Bullethead, who had a bullet in his head, it was due to blindness and when an animal has vision problems in one eye they often only walk in the direction they can see!)
We also got to do blood smears and look at bird blood under the microscope. Fun fact about bird blood: it has nuclei!!
Even though we had a long day, my group partner Angela and I worked on our final presentation project, a video we were filming on leaf-cutter ants. There were a lot of doctor flies and mosquitos trying to stop us, and we had a few run-ins with fire ants but we managed to get the job done. :^)