Part 6 – Belize National Zoo
Our short three week trip almost over, we had to return from Guatemala to the airport in Belize City. But we had one day to kill, so we got off the bus to check out the Belize Zoo. Generally I am not a fan of zoos, but the animals here all were orphaned, rescued, born at the zoo, rehabilitated animals, or sent to The Belize Zoo as donations from other zoos. Interestingly, the Belize Zoo was started in the early 1980’s in an effort to provide a home for a bunch of wild animals that had been used in a documentary film about rainforests. The Belize Zoo had a nice feel to it.
Ecotourism is big business in Belize. The zoo is partnered with the TEC (Tropical Education Center). This non-profit is set on 100 acres next to the zoo, and provides lodging and rainforest tours. For overnight stays there are dorms available for large school groups, as well as many little jungle cabins like this.
But we went for a cabin set right over a pond wetland area.
It had a screened lovely deck, and came with fish and small crocodiles swimming underneath. Crocs would make it a little creepy to stay here if you had a toddler along.
In addition to the crocs floating in our pond, I got to see this critter race across the pond to an island. So named because they can run on top of the water.
The rooms were spartan and simple, which is to say totally luxurious compared to most every other place we stayed on this trip.
There was even a dining hall for meals. We dined with another American couple, and commented to them that we had seen very few Americans in our three weeks in the country. “Where have you been?” they asked in amazement. They said they had been surrounded by nothing but Americans all week. It turned out they had spent only one night on the mainland, here at the zoo, and otherwise had been staying offshore the rest of their trip on one of the upscale tourist islands such as Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, or Turneffe Atoll.
If you ask for a beer with your meal when at the Belize Zoo dining hall, there is only one option. Belikin, national beer of Belize, clearly has a more responsible drinking campaign slogan than does Gallo, the national beer of Guatemala.
In addition to lodging and dining the TEC has hiking trails. We saw plenty of birds while hiking.
Like any good education center, the TEC has lots of informative and text heavy signage along the trails. But if Belizean school kids are anything like mine were in America, damn few of them will ever stop to read a sign.
This sign was next to main path by the dining hall. I love it when school kids don’t bother to read signs like this. They learn the hard way instead.
This was what the sign was warning about. The red leafcutter ant were in giant long streams all over the place. Only one is carrying a leaf here. Who knows what the rest of the slacker ants were doing.
Where there is vegetation the leafcutter ants clear a route for their heavy traffic.
One of the things I liked about this zoo is that it felt more like a jungle than an artificial zoo setting. This Spider Monkey was actually just feet away from the zoo boundary. There was no barrier between its jungle and the jungle where we visitors were walking.
Clearly this Toucan was inside the zoo. But years back the zoo got hammered by a hurricane. Many of the animals escaped into the wild. But some came back on their own, no doubt for safety, familiarity, and a steady food supply.
The Toucan of my childhood.
The Howler Monkey is allegedly the second loudest animal on earth. (The elephant is #1) Their howl is said to be louder than a chainsaw. We saw them here at the zoo and in other places on our trip in Central America, but we never heard one really get revved up.
We took a nighttime tour of the zoo so we could see the nocturnal animals such as this tapir.
Of course the tour guide’s blue bucket of food definitely helped bring the animals up close.
On our nighttime tour the croc pond appeared empty, along with a little canal leading from the pond up toward our viewing area. But our guide told us to keep an eye on the water level. He began to rattle the food bucket and call out to the croc. Sure enough, the water level in the canal began to ominously rise. Suddenly a humongous well fed croc surged up out of the water to get his chicken dinner. It was really creepy.
Junior acted more like a dog than a jaguar. He had to perform tricks, like climbing some log structures and rolling over in order to earn his treats. Given the choice, I’d way rather jump in Junior’s cage than in with the croc.
I so spoil Janene during our travels. It was time to catch our final bus back to Belize City and the airport. I risked alligators to get a cinder block out of the roadside ditch for her to sit on, and gave her spot in the shade of the bus stop sign. What more could she want?