Day 5: 6/1 – Root Canal/Target Practice
This entire day was spent at the Belize Zoo, where we observed Dr. Julio do an intensive root canal on one of the jaguar’s bottom canines. The canine had been chipped and then became infected and the tooth full of debris. The zookeepers tranquilized the large cat and wheel-barrowed him to the back of the zoo into the surgical room. Here, the jaguar was hooked up to oxygen and Dr. Julio started off with cleaning out the tooth. The root canal of the canine was full of meat, bacteria, and other debris, so Dr. Julio had to scrape the whole canal clean in order to disinfect it. He then filled the whole on the top of the tooth and part of the canal in. This procedure took a few hours and was only a partial root canal. As that is all he and the other zookeepers could do at the time. The jaguars other teeth were cleaned and inspected as well.
Later in the day we practiced with both blow darts and tranquilizer darts in a pistol on targets in the back of the zoo. The blow darts were very difficult to get accurate and onto the targets, which amazes me that wildlife vets use these on moving animals in the wild to tranquilize them. The pistol was much easier to use and to be accurate with, however, it has a lot of power to it and Dr. Julio said he has broken the legs of animals before with it from the force of the tranquilizer dart hitting them in the legs. All of the students and the staff practiced shooting at the targets and the exercise was very fun and good for experience, as most field researchers and wildlife vets have to use these techniques.
Day 6: 6/2 – Bird Day
This day started off on an early note, starting at 5:00 AM, where we bird watched with our professor and the professor’s friend Ray who knows a lot about birds in Central America. We traveled around on trails around TEC and observed 28 different bird species, which included many pigeons, flycatchers, robins, parrots, and chachalacas. We then drove to this part of a wildlife reserve popular for being a research site, called Runaway Creek. This place had gotten its name due to Belizean slaves that had escaped from their owners to this area and hid out in the caves along the mountains. Here, we practiced using tracking devises and set up bird misting nets throughout the forest for future use. These nets are lightweight and gentle and are used for the safe capture of birds for studying them. Afterwards, we were lead on trails to different caves along the mountains that were used as sites for Mayan rituals. These spectacular and enormous caves were riddled with bones from jaguar kills and Mayan paintings. These caves also had “faces” carved into the entrances, which the Mayans carved I order to protect the cave for their rituals.
Day 7: 6/3 – Search for Howler Monkeys
Today we spent the whole day at this primate reserve, called the Community Baboon Sanctuary, which has many hundreds of acres of protected land for families of black howler monkeys. In creole dialect, “baboon” means howler monkey, hence the name of the protected land. It was established in 1985 and now has an estimated 4,000 – 5,000 howler monkeys on the land. Our guide, who is the son of the man who started this sanctuary, led us out into the forest to conduct ethology reports of different black howler monkey families. (Ethology is the study of animal behavior). This was an amazing experience as we were able to get very close to these wild monkeys and observe them for a long period of time. Each family had two small babies with them who were just learning ow to navigate the trees on their own instead of being carried on their mothers’ backs.
Day 8: 6/4 – Rabies Clinic
This Saturday was a day off for the group, but we had the opportunity to assist Dr. Julio in going to a local village and volunteering at a free rabies clinic. The “clinic” was just a building used for community activities with two tables in it. A few families brought in dogs for us to vaccinate, and each one had multiple dogs. One man had come in with 12 dogs and 2 cats. We only had 50 vaccinations with us, but luckily used up every one, and each one of us got the experience of vaccinating multiple dogs. Free clinics like this are very important to try to help not only the local animals, but also the wildlife, so that diseases cannot be spread and all of the animals are protected. It felt good to help these dogs, however, the culture towards dogs is very different here than compared to what we are used to. Here, the people are poor and have no concept of pets, there aren’t even any pet stores or vet clinics around the country. These dogs are simply used as protection, and are not cared for as pets like people in America treat their dogs as. Many of the dogs that came in were scared of people, had many cuts, were all on tight chains, and many had mange and fleas. On the positive, however, the people cared enough to at least bring these dogs in to get vaccinated and looked at by us, which shows a good gradual change in the community.