June 7th was probably my all-around favorite day of the course! The morning began with a necropsy lab where groups of three of us each got our own animal to work on. There were two parrots, a falcon, a snake and a toucan that had all passed away and the zoo had stored their bodies for our class. My group got the falcon and it was a really awesome experience getting to see all of the anatomy in person. We were able to just barely see an air sac still intact, and I never realized how large (in birds, at least) the lobes of the liver were!
After the necropsy lab, we were able to put our enrichment activity to the test. My group had decided to work with the toucan as there were some toucans that were isolated due to behavioral problems, and toucans are a social species! So we made a mystery box for the toucan that involved sections of a box with hay, treats for the toucan, and more straw on top so the toucan had to dig for it.
We went to the first enclosure where there were two toucans together, and only one was interested in our enrichment. He got two pieces of fruit out of the box, but it took a lot of convincing for him to even go near the box. The second enclosure we went to housed Napoleon (Nappy for short!), a toucan that may or may not have killed another toucan so they have to house him separately. Nappy loved shoelaces, so we had to stand pretty far back from the enclosure, otherwise, he was more interested in the people outside than the box of treats in with him. After a few minutes though, he figured out how the box worked and had eight pieces of fruit! It felt so amazing knowing that we helped make these toucans brains a little more active that day, and we left the box with the zookeeper Lawerence who was helping us so that they could use it in the future! (Future Deanna here with some exciting news: after getting back from Belize Lawerence actually added me on Facebook and messaged me letting me know that he had done the enrichment activity with the parrots and they were much more responsive to the box! That means the world to me knowing that a silly little box that my group put together for our course is still making changes in the animals’ lives down in Belize thanks to the diligent work of the zookeepers at the Belize Zoo. Okay, future Deanna rant over.)
June 8th was our last day of academic activities for the Wildlife course. We started the day with our meeting with Cynthia, the program director, and she talked with us about the course and how they at CELA can make it better for us. Then we took our final exam at the Belize Zoo’s classroom which was suupeerr fair. Then we went through our student presentations! Our video presentation was a success too, people seemed to really enjoy me swatting away bugs while trying to talk about leaf-cutter ants. We went out to lunch at Cheers for one last time, and when we got back to the Belize Zoo, a group of us were scheduled for the jaguar encounter! We went into a separate cage inside Junior Buddy’s enclosure and got to interact with him up close and personal. We pet parts of his tail and paws (jaguar fur is SUPER soft!!) and he did somersaults for us. Then he jumped onto the cage we were in and licked our forehead. Yes, I was LICKED by a jaguar!!
Being licked by a jaguar was definitely not something I thought I was ever going to get to say about myself, but that’s Belize for you. The encounter only lasted 15 minutes, but they were an electric 15 minutes. After the encounter, we had the rest of the afternoon off until dinner, so I relaxed by the pool and started packing everything up. After dinner, we all went to Amigos and sang karaoke just like we did on night one. It was a really great way to end the trip together.
Saturday, 6/9 was my last day in Belize. It was bittersweet waking up for the last time and taking the walk to the sink to brush my teeth. At breakfast, we were all having our normal friendly conversations, and it was hard not to think about the reality that there is a slim likelihood that I will see any of these people ever again. (Aside from my Rutgers homies of course.) We were picked up from the Tropical Education Center at 8:15 and we said goodbye to our professors Dr. K and Jane for the last time. We also said goodbye to the wonderful staff that were so accommodating the whole time we were at the TEC. On the way out, it wouldn’t have been a true Belizean goodbye if a I didn’t get bit by a doctor fly as I was getting on the shuttle to the airport. It was the only correct way to end my time.
The drive to the airport was short but again, filled with great conversations with the friendships that I made while in Belize. At the airport, I was able to check my suitcase (47 lbs!!) with ease and get through customs and security with minimal issue. I was nervous that my suitcase was over 50 pounds, so right before I left I took out my plastic bag of souvenirs and just stuck it in another bag and called it my personal item. Silly Deanna forgot there was a 5 oz. bottle of hot sauce in there, so security was quick to take that away. I was able to buy another bottle inside the gate luckily. I was on my flight alone, so it was a great opportunity to read my book and decompress. My layover was in Fort Lauderdale, and I was prepared to be swept away by the customs officers for having worked with livestock and on farms while in Belize. Luckily, I donated my farm boots, so I left them in Belize and I had laundry done, so when the officer asked me about what I was bringing into the country, I was able to say that I wasn’t bringing anything but had been working on a farm and didn’t want to lie.
My next flight was only an hour later, and I didn’t have someone sitting in the seat immediately next to me on the plane. We came into New Jersey in a direction I had never flown in before, so you could see the NYC skyline perfectly. It was pretty cool!
I got off the plane in Newark and was just excited. Excited to finally be home. After I got my luggage from the baggage claim (it didn’t get lost!!), my boyfriend Sean picked me up and brought me home. I had two more reunions with my mom and then with my dogs!!
I can’t believe I can say this but!! I’m home!! :^)