Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You better Belize it

I have decided to resurrect my blog now that I am part of Miami University's Global Field Program getting my Master's in Biology. Over the the next 2.5 years I will be traveling to foreign countries with classmates and learning about inquiry driven education, environmental stewardship and gaining a better understanding of global issues.

This year I had the opportunity to go to  Belize. During the trip we visited the Belize Zoo, Tobacco Cay and Mayan archaeological sites, but I am going to start from the beginning.

The first day really began the day before since I was lucky enough to be taking a red eye across the country from San Diego to Atlanta then down to Belize. I was really excited to be going somewhere new. Over the past 4 years since the last entry, I have been traveling, but just back to places I was familiar with, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and the US Virgin Islands. This was going to be the first new place and I was excited, but nervous and not sure what to expect. However, as I headed through customs I started seeing the yellow Earth Expedition tags on my classmates bags and we all started to connect and get to know the people we were going to spend the next 10 days with.

I had gotten in 3 hours before the class technically started so those of us who were there early had a long time waiting and chatting before we go on the bus and headed to the Belize Zoo. When we got to the zoo we met Jamal and he took us on a brief but very interesting tour of the zoo. We learned the history of all the animals in the zoo and that they were all natives and rescues.

Indy the Central American Tapir
Tayena, Greater One Horned Rhino
The first animal we saw was Indy the Central American tapir and he let us give in peanut treats. It was really neat to be so close to the rhinos closes relative. It was cool to their similarities up-close and differences. The main one that surprised me was the teeth they were very different than a rhinos and much sharper than I thought. I also found it interesting that tapirs face the same persecution for being feared. People that visit the Safari Park are always scared of rhinos and ask me if they will charge our truck or if it is okay that we are so close to them and for that reason we let guests feed and pet them to dispel some of those stereotypes. I learned that in Belize people feared tapirs, they thought these herbivores were ravenous beasts that would tear your skin off. The Belize Zoo has been doing guests interactions with these animals to allow the locals to gain appreciation and eliminate the fear of their national animal. This interaction really reminded of the important job zoos have to enlighten people of the natural wonders of animals from around the world, but more importantly instill some passion for animals found in your backyard.

We continued the tour and saw the spider monkey, a macaw the king vultures and then we saw Rocky. Rocky was incredible, he is a jaguar that was rescued from a trap. In Belize, jaguars that are posing a problem for farmers can be destroyed, but the zoo in looking to stop this by being a safe place for these cats. They do a lot of outreach to the local community and so now when community members have a problem with a jaguar they call the zoo. The zoo is able to humanely capture and rescue the jaguar, This is how they came to have Rocky. We were able to get right up next to him and see his shear power. The most incredible part about seeing him was his recall. Jamal called him and he came running. In fact every animal seemed to know and love Jamal.

After the tour, we got to meet Sharon, the woman who started the zoo. She is incredible, she has such passion and she truly has spent the past 30 years devoted to the animals of Belize and making them accessible and  to change their stereotypes. She has worked hard to show people that the animals aren't scary and to dispel the myths surrounding them.

After the talk, we went to the Tropical Education Center for a great dinner of jerk chicken and rice and beans. Then to the cabins for a much needed sleep, before the following days activity of hanging out with some manatees.