I can’t believe the first week here is already over! After our first day at the zoo, we spent the following morning exploring Runaway Creek Nature Reserve. The reserve is one of the many protected areas of Belize, spanning 6,000 acres, which not accessible to the general public. Fortunately, we were able to explore the land guided by one of the Reserve’s land managers, Ray Cal. Having worked at the reserve since 2003, Ray was extraordinarily knowledgeable about the land and all of the life that encompasses it. With his expertise, we were able to set up camera traps throughout the forest in areas frequented by the wildlife in hopes of capturing them on camera. He explained to us the uses of camera trapping as a means of conducting research. Additionally, while we were there, we set up nets for our bird-banding lesson that we will have later on in the week.
The following day, we had a guest speaker come and to talk to us about the crocodile populations of Belize. Miriam Boucher, the research coordinator for the Crocodile Research Coalition, explained the work conducted by the organization. The CRC promotes conservation for the Morelet and American crocodile species by conducting research on their populations and their habitats throughout Central America. She discussed the many misconceptions the public has about these creatures, and how the fear people have towards crocodiles can propagate actions which put entire ecosystems at risk. Her insight and passion towards the cause changed my perspective of crocodiles, and gave me a new-found appreciation for them.
That evening, my classmates and I were given a private tour of the zoo. With a zookeeper as our guide, we walked around in search of the crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and nocturnal animals. The keepers enlightened us about the life of the animals, and enticed many of them to approach us using food. I even had the opportunity to feed a tapir! It was so incredible to learn from the zookeepers given their intimate relationship with each and every one of the animals. I was so grateful to be there and to be able to spend time with the animals in this way.
On Friday, we started our day early with birding. Walking around the Tropical Education Center, our wildlife expert Ray explained to us the different birds we heard calling, and their distinct physical characteristics. By the end of the hour, we were able to identify 25 different species! I found it unbelievable that we were able to find so many birds in such a small amount of time. Later that morning, we learned about the practice of remote capturing animals as a means of administering medical care, and got to practice using a blow dart and a cardboard animal target. That afternoon we had the opportunity to return to the zoo to conduct observations on an animal of our choice. I chose to study two tapirs, and recorded their behavior over the course of an hour and a half.
Saturday and Sunday are our free days, and so today we traveled to one of the islands of Belize, Caye Caulker. In order to get to Caye Caulker, we had to drive to Belize City and then take a water taxi over. When we arrived in Caye Caulker, the island was bustling with activity. The streets were filled with craftsmen, food vendors, and golf carts shuttling people from one side of the island to the other. Stray dogs would run past our heels and people would call out their merchandise as we went. It was overwhelming, but also very new and exciting. My friends and I spent the day exploring the island, eventually stumbling upon a beautiful resort, which had a breathtaking beach and an area in the water that seahorses inhabited.
The past few days were a whirlwind of activities that have been exhausting, yet so incredible. I cannot wait to see what my second week has in store.