May 26th was the first day of the wildlife course! After having our last breakfast at Midas and saying our final goodbyes, Kayla, Angela and I were transported from San Ignacio to the Tropical Education Center which is a part of the Belize Zoo! It was bittersweet leaving Midas because while I was so excited to have all of the amazing experiences that the wildlife course has to offer, I was also going to miss the air conditioning. We got to the TEC around 9:30 in the morning and the rest of our class wasn’t set to get in until 1:30pm. So we all took our time settling in and cooled off by the pool that the TEC had just built. It was nice having a screen between us and all of the mosquitos, biting flies and ticks that the jungle had to offer us.
We were picked up for lunch where we met some of the people that we’re spending the next two weeks with. Compared to the large animal course, everyone was super quiet and to themselves. Then again, it’s possible that we were all to ourselves when we first flew in too. The whole day was just a relaxing settle into our new living arrangements, and we had dinner to welcome us to the TEC. That night, we were given our mosquito nets to set up around our beds to keep us safe at night. We still wore bug spray to sleep and came out with bites, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like without the net.
On Sunday May 27th, there was a planned excursion for the group to spend the morning cave tubing and zip lining. Those of us from the large animal class opted out from that as we already had gone cave canoeing and didn’t want to spend even more money on excursions. So instead, we had a super chill and relaxing Sunday morning. It was nice finally having a break after being on go for the last two weeks. When the rest of the group got back, we had our orientation from CELA and had some courses describing the course and what we were going to be learning over the next two weeks. That night, we all went out to Amigos, a local bar that has a karaoke machine and played cards and sang until it was time to head in for the night.
Monday May 28th was our first day of classes! It was the most lecture-heavy day we will have, but we got a lot of important information out of today. We had lectures by Dr. K describing Wildlife research methods as well as Wildlife Veterinary Medicine. That evening, we went to the Belize Zoo for a night tour!
Before the tour, we were spoken to by Sharon Matola, the owner and founder of the Belize Zoo. The Belize Zoo is something special because of its work with conservation and protection of wildlife in Belize. In Belize, it is illegal to own wildlife in any capacity. So the only way it is legal for the zoo to house animals is for them to be rescued, orphaned, and unable to be released back into the wild. The animals at the zoo serve as ambassadors for their species to show people, especially locals that wild animals do not need to be killed on site. Jaguar killing is a huge problem in Belize as jaguars often eat livestock due to habitat destruction and reduced access to resources. The Belize Zoo works to educate the public by going out to schools and teaching children about all the wonderful native species of Belize and why they need to be protected!
After the presentation, we went on the night tour where we had the opportunity to feed a couple of animals! The tapir, Belize’s national animal, was my favorite, but Junior Buddy the jaguar definitely stole the show. Junior Buddy was born in the zoo as his mom was rescued and the zookeepers had not known she was pregnant. Two months into having her, she had a little cub at her side! Since junior can never be released and he has grown up around people, he is a great ambassador for the Jaguars of Belize. It was really cool getting to see the zoo at night by flashlight, and I can’t wait to see how different it is during the day! :^)