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The Zoo has an excellent collection of cats, with three or four regular Jaguars as well as a Black Jaguar topping the food chain. Next in size were a couple of Pumas (or Central American Cougars), one of which was very friendly as it rolled and purred by the fence - a former pet that had grown too large. It was also interesting to see some of the lesser known cats such as the small sleek jaguarundi and the even smaller ocelots and margays.
The Jaguars were a bit more intense, with one of them making a charge just up to the electrified fence on the inside of their outer cage. During our night tour, the curator made a discovery of how one of the Jaguars was getting out of his 'hut' where he was supposed to stay during the hours of darkness. A sliding steel door is controlled by a steel rope and the Jaguar had figured out that by reaching up with his claws, he could pull down on the wire and raise the door. The door then slid down askew and jammed open - freedom to roam his outer cage!
We were soon finished up with our morning tour, which we had started at 8:30 AM in order to get most of it completed before the cruiseship tour busses turned up. We had noticed three of these large vessels anchored off the Belize City harbour when we arrived from the islands the previous day - usually Tues., Wed. and Thursday are prime days for cruise tours to clog up the local infrastructure.
Updated Jul 5, 2007
Continuing our jungle trail walk from the Guanacaste tree, we came to the small Roaring Creek tributary of the Belize River. The forest trail followed high above the very deep ravine through which the creek flowed (and we could see the remains of an old steel bridge laying in the water far below) along which were located various bird watching platforms. We had brought our binoculars with us, so quite enjoyed spotting a few of the different species before continuing our walk toward the junction with the Belize River.
This was an interesting spot, with a large series of wooden platforms and steps built there to provide both a great viewing area and a means to step down into the swimming hole located where these two bodies of water meet. This photo shows some of the after effects of the record 2005/06 Hurricane season in which Belize just dodged a couple that went north and south of here. Even a few weeks before we arrived, torrential rains had caused flooding - take a look at the brown high water mark on that tree trunk across the creek!! Even the platform we were standing on had various bits of mud depositied on it! Now I could understand why the other tree trunk had been torn loose and the old bridge had obviously been ripped from it's moorings during some previous event!
We dipped our feet in the water, but it was near noon and we still had to sort out our night's accommodations somewhere on the southeast coast. It was off to see what downtown Belmopan had to say for itself!
Updated Jun 9, 2006
The tour is given by one of the curators at the Zoo and starts with their caged snake and insect collection at the entrance building. Then, various lights (torches) were distributed (some people had their own - they would be good to bring to Belize, as we later found out as we camped near the Guatemala border!) and we headed off into the maze of wooded trails leading throughout the zoo. The photo shows one of their American crocs by day with the second photo showing what I achieved when trying to shoot in the dark!! When we came upon the creature at night, we could see its eyes glowing in our lights as it was submerged at the far end of its pond. It was amazing to watch as the curator called out to it with grunting noises and the eyes slowly slid forward. Eventually it reached land and continued out of the water, stopping only when it reached the fence at our feet - it looks like I fired off my night shot too soon as I faced the 'charge'!
We also heard our guide giving more yowls at the Black Howler Monkeys, getting the males to respond with their booming calls (I tried this method of calling in Guatemala's Tikal National Park, but it looks like I need more training!). Especially interesting were the numerous big cats - Jaguars, a black Jaguar, Pumas, Jaguarundis, Margays and Ocelots ranging in size from huge to small. We were taken in to see how these cats relaxed at night when they were penned into their huts, cut off from their large fenced exterior treed area. Definitely a memorable experience!
Updated Apr 5, 2006
Our first objective, after picking up our rental vehicle from the International airport northwest of Belize City, was the Community Baboon Sanctuary located only 13 miles (21 km) away at Bermudian Landing. This area of Belize was set aside by the local population to help preserve the endangered Black Howler Monkey population (locally referred to as 'baboons') while at the same time, providing the villagers with additional income. Shortly after crossing the Belize River and it's protected 60-foot (18-m) wide swath of trees on each bank, as shown here, we arrived in the small village of Bermudian Landing.
As part of the effort to preserve their Howler Monkey population, the over 200 members of the nine local villages agreed not to cut the types of trees which provide the main food source for the monkeys and also to leave narrow forested strips between their cultivated fields, so the monkeys could continue to use the aerial pathways that they were used to. The World Wildlife Fund officially sanctioned the conservation efforts of the villagers in 1985.
We soon came across the small building in the second photo, which houses a museum with skeletons and artifacts explaining the intricacies of Black Howler Monkeys and how the CBS came into existance (US$5 pp to tour). The cost of admission also provided for a local guide who took us on a tour of the many trails along the banks of the Belize River where the monkeys nest. He took off down the road on his bicycle for a short distance, as we followed in our rental, before we all headed off into the forest on foot.
Updated Apr 5, 2006
The Belize Zoo is quite an interesting place! It is different from most zoos in that it does not import animals from various parts of the world but simply takes in creatures that are native to Central America. The various animals and birds that call the Zoo 'home' have not been captured for the sake of display - they have either been previously injured, are pets given up by owners when things got out of hand or have been seized by the government for illegal ownership. The Zoo goes out of it's way to educate the local Belizians, in an effort to help them understand the importance of preserving the health of their local wildlife. Located in the midst of the forested countryside, the Zoo is about half-way between Belize City and Belmopan (see my 'General' tip for a map) with no major settlements near for miles in any direction. We had found out by chance that it is possible to stay within a mile or so of the Zoo, at the Tropical Education Center (see 'Accommodations'), so we had a great opportunity to really enjoy this collection of creatures.
On of the things the staff mentioned when we checked-in at the TEC was that it was possible to take a guided 'night tour' of the Zoo for US$20 each, giving a person a chance to see what these creatures are doing in the dark hours of the day. A side benefit was that taking the tour entitled you to a free day tour as well! It sounded good, so as soon as we had finished our dinner, Sue and I hopped into our rental vehicle, along with our two friends from Caye Caulker, and followed the Zoo truck over, which was carrying the other four tour participants (continued on next Tip).
Updated Apr 4, 2006
After finishing our morning Zoo excursion, Sue and I headed back to the Tropical Education Center to pack up and clear out. We had invited our friends from Caye Caulker to accompany us on the remainder of our rental vehicle travels (they were at the start of a 7-week backpacker trip through to Panama with no fixed itinerary), so we were all on the highway toward Belmopan by 11 AM. A half-hour later, we were at the small Guanacaste National Park, located beside the highway only a couple of miles from Belmopan.
This 50-acre remnant of the tropical forests of Belize is managed by the Belize Audubon Society and has a small visitor's centre with information on the Park's trails, flora and fauna (US$2.50 pp entry fee) as well as toilet facilities. After a short stop there, we headed off on one of their shorter jungle trails that leads to the park's namesake - a huge Guanacaste tree. Also known as a Tubroos, these trees have a trunk diameter of of more than 6 feet and are usually festooned with vines and epiphytes hanging from the branches high above. These trees were prime targets for loggers but, because this particular 100-year old specimen had a partially broken trunk, it is guessed that it was bypassed for choicer victims. It was quite a sight to behold (check out the other two photos), as were the many tropical birds that inhabit this little bit of forest where Roaring Creek flows into the larger Belize River.
Updated Apr 1, 2006
Taking advantage of our chance to see the Zoo again in the clear morning light, Sue and I left for the Zoo at 8:30 AM. Some things we saw on this self-guided tour were:
Harpy Eagle - one of the largest of eagles. It's length can reach over 3 feet and with a body weight of 20 lb and a flight sped of over 50 mph it packs quite a punch when it strikes an unsuspecting prey. The animals that have to worry are small tree-living mammals like opossums, sloths and monkeys. We had a good look at this one as it shifted position and flew from branch to branch - very impressive looking set of talons!
Tapirs - 2nd pic. These 6 ft. long and 300-500 lb animals are mostly active at night when they search for food along river banks and forest clearings. They are excellent swimmers spending a fair amount of time in forest rivers. When surprised, tapirs generally head for water, but will sometimes stamp their feet loudly or whistle. Our night Zoo guide also told us that this one has a habit of jetting a stream of urine several feet in distance, and more than one Zoo visitor has paid the price! We kept generally clear.
Spider Monkeys - 3rd pic They have slender bodies and limbs with long narrow hands, weighing ~20 lbs and living for ~33 years. These monkeys seldom descend to ground level and, when on the lookout in the trees, they stand or walk on two feet, using the tail to hold on to a support. We had some great views of them in the tree tops, including a mother with a small baby clinging to her back.
Scarlet Macaw - 4th pic. These 3-foot long birds are the most magnificent bird of the parrot family. With their strong wings, these fruit-eating macaws can reach speeds of 35 mph and often fly in pairs calling to each other in raucous voices. According to the Zoo, as recent as 1989, the reported Belizean population of Scarlet Macaws was a total of 24 birds. But in 1996, a new population of over 100 birds was "discovered" south of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary near Hopkins.
Updated Apr 1, 2006
By 2 PM, we had satisfied ourselves with lunch in Belmopan and pulled out onto the Hummingbird Highway for the 55 mile southeast drive to Hopkins, even though we still had not arranged any accommodations. Now this is a scenic route, the lush green tropical growth immediately being much more appealing than the dry forest along the Western Highway. Obviously, the peaks of the Maya Mountains along this road catch more rainfall and the vegetation shows it.
We were thinking of stopping for a look at or dip in the Blue Hole National Park along the way, but it clouded over and spit with rain just then, so we decided to keep on rolling. I really enjoyed the rugged peaks along here covered in green forests and plantations of orange and grapefruit trees. However, it was frustrating because the vista was so wide-spread that it could not easily be properly captured in a photo. It turned out to be a great highway with a few quaint single-lane bridges and it was also interestng to see how an actual orange harvest is carried out as we passed many plantations along the way. We had much better weather on our way back to Belmopan, so I was able to better appreciate the views.
Take this highway if you get the chance - it is paved all the way and smooth (except for speed bumps which are everywhere in Belize).
Updated Apr 1, 2006
The Black Howler Monkeys found here are one of six species found in the tropical rain forests of southern South America, Boliva and Central America. Their head and body length of about 2-3 feet (combined with equal tail length dimensions) makes them one of the largest monkey types found in the Americas. Females of the species are brown in colour to more easily blend into the jungle foliage, while the larger males are black and have a jaw structure that allows them to make very load echoing calls to stake out their territory. These 'howls' can be heard for about 2 miles (3 km) in a jungle environment and, although we did not hear any from these sleepy early-afternoon creatures, we did later hear their distinctive cries at both the Belize Zoo and in the jungle of Guatemala's Tikal National Park. One of the driving factors in setting up the CBS to preserve the habitat of these Howlers, was the sharp decline in the population of the Central American animals, due to hunting by locals in southern Mexico and logging/hunting activities in Guatemala around Tikal.
We had an interesting little walk along the trails in this small area of rain forest as our guide pointed out the various trees, such as oil palms, used by the villagers. Although I did not get many good camera shots in the dense foliage (2nd and 3rd photos), we were more successful with action shots on the video camera that Sue was using. It does not take too long to educate yourself here, so I highly recommend a stop if you are in the area!
Updated Mar 31, 2006
Green Hills Butterfly Ranch and Botanic Garden. http://www.belizex.com/green_hills.htm
An employee escorted our group into a screened area with plants, trees and lots of butterflies--about 20 species. Chrysalis of different species, all sizes and shapes hang in a wooden box with larvae wiggling inside. Some chrysalises had silver and gold colored spots like jewels. Butterflies landed on us and stayed. Had to watch where we stepped because butterflies parked on the gravel path.
Updated Oct 4, 2002
1 Review and 60 Opinions The Lodge sits among 4000 acres of land owned by John & Carolyn Carr. The staff is friendly and...