On the 29th, we spent the whole day at the zoo! We had the opportunity to get a tour of the zoo’s problem jaguar rehabilitation program. The Belize Zoo has this amazing program where if a farmer notices that a jaguar has been killing their livestock, instead of killing the jaguar, the farmer can call the zoo and they will come out, catch the jaguar and house the jaguar at the zoo. The mentality behind it is that it is better to have a jaguar in an enclosure that has access to food and veterinary services when it needs as opposed to a dead jaguar. It was really interesting to tour though because these cats were straight up wild animals and it showed. They were growling, hissing, and jumping up at us as we walked by.
After the jaguar tour, we had a bone lab where we broke up into groups to reassemble a jaguar skeleton! We walked into the room and were faced with a fold-out table that just had bones laid out in no particular order. We had to figure out which bones were which, put them all together, and lay it out in the correct orientation. All in 20 minutes! In the end, the only mistake my group made was switching the radius and the fibula!
After lunch, we had a fecal parasite lab where we tested fecal samples from the zoo for parasites, and happily for the bird in question, it came up clean! We also walked around the zoo and got to meet Sparks the baby tapir! Tapirs honestly became my favorite animal overnight and it’s super devastating because in Belize tapirs’ greatest cause of death is traffic accidents. They blend in super well with the pavement and they often times are hit and die on the side of the road. The Belize Zoo has been putting a lot of efforts to raise awareness of this issue, and even sells “I Brake for Tapirs” bumper stickers!
On the topic of tapirs and car accidents, my roomies Kayla, Angela and I were the only ones sitting in the dining area playing cards when our professor Dr. K came up to us. It was super late so most people had gone to bed already, but she asked if we were interested in going to the site where the TEC staff had recently moved a tapir that had been hit by a car a few days prior. Being the knowledge seekers that we are, we hopped right on that opportunity and before we knew it were riding through the savanna. We came up to the site when what must have been 30 vultures flew away from the body. We got out of the truck and walked up to see the massive body. The tapir had been dead for a few days they had said, but there was only one wound in the armpit area where you could see the vultures had opened him up to get to his organs. Around the area, there was also bones scattered about from another tapir that had died (via car crash) and was brought to the site. After our bone lab from earlier, we walked around and Dr. K had us identify what bones were what! I will save the folks at home the horror of seeing the dead tapir with his eyes eaten out, but I will share the pictures of the bones that were scattered about! Anyone interested in the picture of the tapir can hmu. The ride out to the dead tapir was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it really took everything we had learned that day to a new level!
The next day on the 30th, we had a lecture by Marissa Tellez, the founder of CRC, or the Crocodile Research Coalition. Afterward we went to the zoo and visited the crocs that the zoo has! That afternoon we had a demonstration with a radio collar where we were given an antenna and had to trek through the savanna to find the collar by listening for the loudness of the beep. It was cool getting to wander through the bush and it was super rewarding finding the collar after looking for it for a half hour. After the radio collar activity, we had the rest of the day free until dinner, so it was a very lax day. There’s definitely plenty to do though if you bring a deck of cards!
On the 31st, we were again at the zoo. We visited the pelican enclosure because one of the birds had something wrong with his eye that the zookeepers had noticed that morning. Dr. K diagnosed him with conjunctivitis. Fun fact: pelicans do this thing where every few seconds they lift just their toes up and tap them. Super cute, I know.
After that, we learned how to make our own blow darts out of two syringes! We used these hand-crafted blow darts to practice darting on a target outside. It was hard to get the hang of at first because there is much more of an arc to the dart than you would expect, but after one failed attempt I managed to get it on one of the targets!
Following blow darting, we had the amazing opportunity to meet Rose the American Crocodile. Rose has been at the zoo since she was a hatchling and was bottle-fed by Sharon. She is essentially a dog inside the body of a six-foot crocodile. She was super sweet and was holding hands with the handler that had her on his lap. We each got the opportunity to sit next to her and pet Rose’s head. It was super surreal petting her and being so close to an animal that is so often misunderstood as being a man-eating predator. (They aren’t!! American crocs are super chill just don’t get in their way!!) I’ve loved my time at the zoo it’s such a unique and amazing place. :^)