It has been a few days into my study abroad trip and I am really enjoying my time in the beautiful country of Belize!
5/26/18 I left early Saturday morning and arrived in Belize at about 12:00PM. We drove about 45 minutes from the airport in Belize City to the Tropical Education Center (TEC) in La Democracia where we’re staying at. The TEC is in a very rural, secluded area, surrounded by forest. I immediately noticed the differences of life here in Belize from life in America on our drive. The highway has savanna grassland/forest on either side and was just one long road. There were barely any cars on the road, just a few here and there. There are no stoplights or signs, just the occasional speed bump to make drivers slow down. It is very common to just pass the car in front of you if the person is driving too slow for you. I’ve seen so many advertisements on the side of the road for Belkin, the Beer of Belize. First, we went to a small outdoor restaurant called Cheers down the road from TEC. The official language of Belize is English, so everyone can speak it and they accept American currency, where every 2 Belize dollars is 1 American dollar. The TEC reminds me of a hostel, the rooms, bathrooms, sinks and showers are all separate buildings, with everything within a minute walking distance all outside. The dining hall is about a two minute walk, and that, along with the classroom, are the only place where we have Wifi. It is very hot, almost always above 90 degrees and there’s no air-conditioning, so we’re just using fans. There is a pool though, which is refreshing. The TEC is very beautifully set-up, and you can really feel that we are right in the middle of Belizan nature. Lizards, iguanas and frogs are everywhere and fun to watch. We have breakfast and dinner cooked for us homemade and the food is so good, I really like it. It’s been interesting getting to know my classmates, most are from different states and schools, which is cool. Almost everyone is pre-vet, so it’s a bit odd being one of the only ones who wants to work in wildlife conservation. Some of my classmates work in animal vet clinics and they tell me about them, and I tell them about working at a zoo. ’m really enjoying talking with them and getting to know about their lives.
5/27/18 On Sunday, we had our first excursion and it was absolutely amazing. We went to a zip-lining and cave tubing tourist attraction not too far down the road. I had so much fun and was in awe of the nature. We did zip-lining first, which was exhilarating. Being up above the forest was an incredible sight to see. The course had 6 different lines, each of different speeds and lengths. Everyone’s favorite was the last one where we zipped above a river down below. The workers were very nice, just like everyone else who lives here, they seem to really appreciate and value the tourists. After zip-lining, we went tubing in the water of a cave. This was my first time doing something like this and the experience was well worth the cost! We had to hike a bit through the forest before we got to the cave and the tour-guide gave us a lot of interesting facts along the way. Once we got there, we got to swim a little while the workers put together our tubes. Then we got into our tubes and headed for the cave! The cave was breathtaking, it was so large and beautiful. The whole experience was very relaxing and calming as we floated along the water, looking up at the walls and top of the cave. At one point, we all turned off our flashlights and it was pitch black. It was extremely peaceful being surrounded by this natural wonder and we all just took it in. I will never forget that feeling of being within and apart of nature in that moment. It amazed me how nature could create this rock formation with an opening and water could flow through it. The tour-guides told us about how the Mayans used the cave and how important it was to them. As we approached the end of the cave and saw light again, that feeling of being one with nature intensified. We were actually in the middle of a pristine forest untouched by man. It was glorious to be away from all man-made objects and be back with where people have come from. This country is so beautiful and I am so grateful I got to see this nature first-hand. We continued down the river, and we all felt connected since we shared this amazing experience together.
5/28/18 Monday was our first day of class. We started the day off with a hike through the forest. Even though it was very hot, humid and buggy, I appreciated the nature of Belize as our tour guide stopped to talk about the different types of plants and pointed out different bird species. I was amazed to see how the forest has two apparent portions, it begins with the savanna grassland that is very sunny and hot, and then transitions into the tropical forest that is more cooler and moist. The plants and birds here are so unique, very colorful and different from those back home. We had some lectures about wildlife health; our professor, Dr. K, is both a veterinarian and wildlife biologist. The director from the Belize Zoo, Jamal, came to talk to us about the zoo’s conservation mission and how the zoo rescues all of its animals. This relates a lot to what I learned from working at the Turtle Back Zoo back home. Their missions are the same: education and conservation, and that it’s all about the animals first. That night, we got a tour of the zoo at night, it was incredible. First we watched a Ted Talk from the zoo’s founder, Sharon and then asked her some questions. Then they let us hold a very tame boa constrictor, I like snakes so it wasn’t a big deal for me, but I was proud that even the girls who were a little afraid held the snake too. On the tour, we noticed that the animals are very lively at night since some are nocturnal and it’s cooler out. We got to see Belize’s native animals, like the tapirs, owls, agouti, ocelots, margay, mountain lions, coatimundis, kinkajou, and the star of the show: Jr Buddy, the jaguar. Jr is one of the only animals at the Belize Zoo that was born there in captivity and not rescued from the wild. He was raised by people, so he loves attention and he’s pretty popular here. We got to see the tour-guide feed him and he’s so adorable. He even rolled over for us!
5/29/18 On Tuesday morning, we had lecture from Dr. K about the different wildlife research techniques and she told us a bit about the research she’s done. Then we went back to the Belize Zoo and see it in the daylight. We went in the back, behind-the-scenes, to meet the several problem jaguars that they house. Problem jaguars are individuals that are causing nuisance or disturbance to people, like farmers when they attack/eat their cattle. If they are preying on cattle, that means something is wrong that is preventing them from eating their usual food source. Common issues with them include broken teeth/canines and missing an eye and cannot be released back. It was really interesting to see these wild jaguars up close, which is a very rare and amazing experience. Most of the jaguars were aggressive, they were not used to seeing so many people looking at them. They constantly were growling and showing their teeth and roaring. It was an interesting comparison to the tamed jaguars at the zoo that I work at. The two at my zoo are very calm and docile and do not do those behaviors. These problem jaguars are very much wild and I liked seeing their natural, wild behavior. After that, Dr. K talked about bones and about the jaguar skeleton. Then we had to reconstruct a real jaguar skeleton with all of its bones. Later, we got to go on a tour with the general curator, Humberto, and meet the tapirs that they are rehabilitating and plan on releasing. We also got to see a very cute baby tapir named Sparks. We fed him and his momma some fruit and their mouths and teeth are adorable. After lunch, we got to perform a fecal parasite test on some of the zoo’s animals and looked under the microscope to see if any had parasites, we didn’t see any. We met up with Jamal again and he gave a very good lecture about how zoo’s are important for many reasons, like education, conservation, research and funding. I really enjoyed it and completely agreed with what he was saying, since I have learned about the same thing back at the zoo I work at.