The Belize Zoo made it into my top 10 list of things to do in this Caribean nation and here’s why:
All the animal are native species. This isn’t a zoo filled with lions and tigers and other imported animals. Many of the zoo’s 150 plus animals were poached out of the wild and later rescued. Other animals were orphaned, born at the zoo, rehabilitated, or donated from other zoological institutions.
The Zoo’s 29 acres of tropical savannah are located on the western highway 29 miles from the city, which is about a 45 minute drive from the cruise ship terminal. Pack your bug spray and don’t forget to wear long sleeves and pants. The mosquitos can be bad, but the enclosures and their surroundings are beautifully landscaped to keep the animals living in as natural an environment as possible.
The zoo is an educational facility. If you go on cruise ship days there is more staff and animal interaction. Tour guides bring bananas and nuts to feed the animals, most of, which are friendly. The keepers are knowledgeable and informative.
The tapir is the national animal of Belize. They are currently an endangered species. The zoo has successfully bred two of its tapirs.
Some visiting Zoologosts from New Zeland on a work trade program let us bottle feed the baby tapir. When does that ever happen at a zoo in the USA? The Belize Zoo is the most interactive zoo I’ve ever been to.
The zoo is great way to get an introduction to Belize wildlife. It helped me to understand better why its important to protect local habitats and sustain them. More than 7,000 acres of Jaguar habitat have been set aside as a sanctuary by the government. The corridor links protected areas together so jaguars can travel through them safer than in the past.
This little quash is my favorite animal in the whole zoo. He stalks the fence begging for human interaction. He or she is actually smart enough to wiggle under the electic fence to be cuddled. I accidentally zapped him once and he looked so betrayed, but came back a few seconds later to be loved more.
I have no idea why his tongue is sticking out, but I thought it was worth including.
The Belize Zoo has a harpy eagle restoration program. It’s through the diligent efforts of captive breeding and reintroduction programs that have saved the harpy eagle from going extinct. I’m not sure if you can zoom in on the picture below, but the bottom left picture shows one of the released eagles trying to approach a young man who has no idea he was hand raised. the young man is trying to scare off the eagle with a beach chair. Even after being released into the wild the harpy eagle kept returning to interact with humans.
Peccaries have scent glands below each eye and another in their backs. Pungent doesn’t even begin to describe the smell that greats your nostrils long before you even see these “skunk pig’s.” Peccaries can spray secretions from their dorsal glands so make sure not to get too close. I was fed peccary once in a Mayan village and knew what I was about to eat before I even took the lid off the container. That being said peccaries are listed as “vulnerable” status, which is one step away from being endangered. I wouldn’t volunteer to eat any wild game. Some native species are overhunted. Its a fine line sometimes between conservation and not wanting to offend a close friend.
One of the jaguar’s is friendly, the other is very mean so be warned. Junior was hand fed by the zoo staff after his mother rejected him and is very friendly. Zoo keepers feed him chunks of meat so you can pet his paws like in the picture above. You can get your picture taken with him and pay to sit in a cage while he plays around you. One of the last times I was there Junior Buddy stole a hat off some guys head and we watched him play with it for an hour.
As I mentioned before most of the animals are nice, but remember they are also wild animals with claws and teeth so show respect. If your not familiar with a species don’t mess around with it. Primates can be incredibly strong, predators kill other animals to survive, and parrots crack hard nuts and seeds with their beaks.
Always be careful when approaching parrots. The ones at the zoo are friendly, but how would you feel if someone shoved a finger in your face? You would be tempted to bite it too, wouldn’t you? These amazons were incredibly gentle and obviously were well cared for.
I agree that pictures are more powerful than words. That’s why I included so many this week. I hope you enjoyed a “taste” of the zoo. And I hope if you ever make it to Belize you can come here. Your entrance fees and donations go a long way toward conservation efforts. In fact a large part of your fees and taxes when entering and exiting Belize go to conservation. You may have noticed that a flight to Belize costs an average 800.00. If you look carefully almost half is considered taxes and fees. Those fees go to conservation programs. So the airline is actually only charging about 400.00 for a ticket. Belize makes most of its money off tourism. Those fees are put to good use promoting ecotourism and trying to preserve Belize’s pristine eco system. They also charge a whopping 40.00 US to leave the country half of which goes to PACT. This fee goes to the Protected Areas Conservation Trust and is used help in the maintenance of the protected areas in Belize.
The zoo is such a haven for wildlife bats can be found sleeping in the bathrooms. Wild agouti’s and paca’s can be seen rummaging around the zoo perfectly at ease in their natural environment.
There are nice ponds with crocodiles and turtles.