Within a short span of 14 days, I experienced so many incredible and new things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I can’t wait to go home and tell me friends and family all about it. There is no doubt that I would not have had the opportunities to do what I’ve done in Belize in this short amount of time had I been in the United States. Being able to hang out at the Belize Zoo, watch surgeries on exotic animals, and assist the zookeepers was amazing, and it just made me feel even more convinced that my future lies in something along the lines of wildlife biology or animal behavior. This is truly the entire point of my journey here: discovering my career interests. While I was assisting the zookeeper clean out cages, prepare food for the howler monkeys, and clean up iguana remnants that one of the jaguars had snacked on, I felt comfort in sensing that I was cut out to be a curator. I really could see myself working at a zoo. Our time at the Belize Zoo was also great because we got to watch Dr. Julio Mercado, our instructor and brilliant veterinarian, at work on animals I had only admired through photos, such as jaguars, tapirs, and margays. Watching him perform a root canal on a jaguar was remarkable, and I’m so grateful for being able to observe so up close. By witnessing several surgeries, I came to the conclusion that being a successful veterinarian not only depends on technical skills, but also on how quickly and cleverly one can respond to things going astray during a procedure. It’s problem solving at its finest, and that’s why being a vet is no easy career. Furthermore, as demonstrated by our assigned readings and class discussions, anything that pertains to animal health is always complicated due to a clash of ethical beliefs, contrasting research goals, and inevitable compromises in wildlife conservation. While this is intimidating, it’s also exciting that I will be involved in such a highly important field that requires further research.
[photo credits to Maritza Navarro]
Moreover, we went out into the pine savanna to perform field research by taking indirect counts of animal activity by searching for tracks, nests, shed snake skin, burrows, and more. We also came to the same site bright and early to set up mist nets to catch birds. While we did not get lucky that day, it was an experience that revealed that sometimes you will be unlucky, but that’s the beauty of nature’s unpredictability. While the heat was intense, I felt such genuine happiness being one with nature, observing the wildlife up close, and learning the tricks of field research from experienced scientists. Now, my goal is to become as knowledgeable and insightful as the wildlife assistant, Ray, whom could identify countless bird species from meters away and could identify any animal track we came across. He was a huge help in our field experiences, and I can only dream of getting to that level of expertise.
One of the best moments of this two week experience was the free rabies clinic we held in a local village known as Mahogany Heights. Unfortunately, Belize has a severe issue with stray animals that commonly are malnourished and sick. Sadly, owners of dogs may not be able to nourish or vaccinate their pets properly due to financial strain. This signifies a high risk of disease transmission across species, including humans. In efforts to alleviate the potential health threats associated with rabies, we gave out free vaccinations under the supervision of Dr. Mercado. This was the first time many of us in the group have given such vaccinations, so while I was incredibly terrified at first, I got the hang of it and felt proud of myself for being able to contribute to a worthy cause. Sure we’re not fixing the issue all in one shot, but our actions have made a difference in at least one area, and that’s way more than I could of said for myself a couple weeks ago. Without a doubt, community service is something that everyone should get involved in, because no matter how small the contribution you are making, someone in this world is benefiting from your benevolence. That thought is enough to want you to keep giving back more and more. I really do wish we could of held another clinic date elsewhere, but time and money for that were so limited. When I return to the U.S., I plan on getting more involved in community service because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Here I am getting background information from the owner after this pup got his shot!
[photo credits to Maritza Navarro]
When we weren’t at the zoo, in class, or out on the field, we used some of our free time to partake in adventures. I went zip-lining through the jungle, cave tubing, and swam in the local river, which was all very awesome and I wish I could do it all over again. I’m going to miss this when I go home. This country is so beautiful and charming..I know I’ll be here again in the near future whether it’s for business or pleasure. Now I’m excited to complete my next course for two more weeks, but I will surely miss the girls that will not be coming with us.