Friday, September 18, 2009

The Belize Zoo by Night

Friday, September 12, 2009
After dinner cooked by the Education Center staff, Jilario took us on a guided tour of the Belize Zoo (www.belizezoo.org/). Ordinarily, I am not a fan of zoos; I prefer that animal stay in the wild. But the Belize Zoo was started by Sharon Matola for two purposes: 1) to be a place where injured wild animals or wild animals otherwise unfit for living free could be cared for and 2) to be a place where Belizeans and visitors to Belize could learn about the wildlife native to Belize. All the animals in the zoo are species that are native to Belize, although they may have been obtained in nearby Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico. The Zoo is supported entirely by donations, so they are small and are not able to afford programs to reintroduce animals to the wild.

The tour of the zoo by night was fantastic. There where on the 4 of us (Sue, Chris, Dennis, and I) and Jilario, our guide. Jilario was wonderful and his passion for his work shines through the whole tour. First up were the snakes, with the yellow-jawed Tommy Goff (aka “Fer de Lance”) leading off. The Tommy Goffs are quite poisonous and a bite from a Tommy Goff may be lethal. You can imagine that it is important to know what they look like and where they are found! We each (except Chris) had a turn at holding the boa constrictor. It was a lovely snake and seemed to enjoy being held.




Next we saw the gibnuts (aka “The Royal Rat”). They are attractively spotted, largish rodents that get to about 20 pounds. When Queen Elizabeth visited Belize before it became independent, she was served gibnut at a banquet, hence its nickname. From firsthand experience, I can tell you that it is delicious; if you can imagine the veal equivalent of a piglet you will have a pretty good idea of how tender and non-gamey it is. Gibnut are a delicacy in Belize (jaguars love them, too) and fortunately they are abundant in the wild.




Belize is home to several wild cats, all of which we got to see and feed at the zoo. The animals know that they will get a treat if they come up during a tour, and so we got to feed a puma, an ocelot, several margays, and a jaguar. They were all gorgeous, impressive animals and, like all the animals there, each had its own story of how it came to be at the zoo.


Although we caught only glimpses, the howler monkeys were impossible to miss due to their indescribable howling. These monkeys aren’t true zoo inhabitants, in that they can come and go as they please. This troop just happens to live on zoo property. The property is kept very natural with special water sources added for the gibnuts, etc.

Perhaps the cutest animals were the kinkajous. They are similar to possums and raccoons. They love to hang upside down and use the tips of their tails and their hands and feet grab hold of supports. I say “hands” because their front feet are very primate-like with thumbs and fingers. Check out the photos of them hanging on the wire fence when we visited their enclosure.

Only a few species of birds are kept at the zoo – spectacled owls, harpy eagles, and curassows. The owls and eagles were happy to show their faces to us, but the curassows only mooned us (see photos)! The harpy eagle is majestic and very beautiful; the photos really don’t do justice to the birds.
Near the end of the tour we also saw 2 big American crocodiles. Belize has 2 native crocs, the American and the Morelet’s. The Americans tend to be larger than the Morelet’s. Both are largely fish eaters, although they may take the small mammals, including dogs. The American crocs at the zoo are very acclimated to the tours since it brings them their evening treat of chicken feet, so we were able to get excellent photos. Check out the photo of a lovely moth that stayed at the side of one of the crocs (see photos). I love the juxtaposition of the defenseless moth mere inches away from the powerfully fearsome hind claws of the croc.

I’ll close this entry with how we ended our tour and perhaps what were the most bizarre animals, the tapirs (aka “Mountain Cows”). They have long prehensile noses, similar to an anteater, and are cow-sized when mature. We felt very special to be the very first tour to hand feed the newest tapir, “Indy”, a bottle (see photos). That was a very fun experience and the entire tour was incredible. A note of caution however -- tapirs express their urine to the rear, and so you need to be mindful of their position relative to you. (Dennis added this last sentence).

The Belize Zoo may be small, but it has a big impact. In addition to the nighttime and day tours, they hold courses, and have two other activities in which you can participate. You can be a “zookeeper for the day” and you can also get to get up close and personal with the young jaguar named Junior Buddy. They have built a small enclosure within the main jaguar enclosure that permits up to 4 individuals enter and be inches away from the 2 year old jaguar. This sounds very cool and you can read a blog at Moonracer Farms with another account of a zoo visit that includes a visit with Junior Buddy (http://moonracerfarmbelize.blogspot.com/2009/05/margaret.html).

10 comments:

  1. Sounds like you had a great time there Wilma.
    Must have been really good to be able to get so close to the animals like that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello! I found your blog post via your comment at TBZBlog. Great post!! You took some wonderful photos, and it sounds like you had an enjoyable night tour at The Belize Zoo. I hope you'll consider linking to TBZBlog from your site (under your Belize blogs).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Keith - it was a very special experience.

    Nan - the Belize Zoo Blog is now listed as one of the Belize Blogs I follow. Thanks for the suggestion, and thanks for visiting my blog.

    cheers,
    Wilma

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting posting. Thanks for the info. Keep up the good work.
    Bathmate

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very impressive posting. I enjoyed it. I think others will like it & find it useful for them. Good luck with your work. ;-)

    Bathmate

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bathmate and Nick,

    thanks for visiting my blog and for your nice comments.

    cheers,
    Wilma

    ReplyDelete
  7. So nice and good posting. i liked it. keep going. :)

    http://www.webroyalty.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

Blog Readers -- your comments are invited. I would love to hear from you.