Hey everyone I’m back to catch you up on my trip again! Everything has still been really amazing and I can’t believe my time here is winding down already. But instead of focusing on that we’re going to focus on all the great stuff I’ve been doing with this program!
So after our day off on New Year’s day we got right back into the swing of things. The next day we took a ride to the Belize Raptor Sanctuary. This place was a bumpy hour drive away but it was definitely worth the drive. The sanctuary is somewhere that takes in abused, abandoned, injured or poached birds local to Belize but really just any bird that is in need of help. They work hard everyday to rescue and rehabilitate these animals so they can be re-released if possible otherwise they do keep these birds and take great care of them. Not do that do that but they also train these birds and use them for local educational purposes. Many local people poach birds for food, sport, because they’re a nuisance or even because they carry bad omens. Their education outreach extends to local schools and families so the public can know that these birds are not harmful and to teach conservation and environmental respect to the general public.
This sanctuary was a really amazing place to learn and practice bird handling techniques. As well as see how they’re treating and rehabilitating these injured birds, all with unique situations of their own. We even got the see one of their shows that the sanctuary puts on for visitors so they can educate people. It was very fun and nice to see the birds in action because they all have their own fun personalities, my favorite was the black vulture, Cora. We also got to hear about the rehabilitator’s struggle of caring so much for the birds but having them avoid you at all costs. Because a rehabilitator has to do tough things with the birds that they don’t want to do in order to help them heal, the birds are often not to fond of their rehabilitator even if they love the birds dearly. However it is better to have that than a bird that has imprinted on you and won’t release back into the wild because it believes you are its family. The goal of rehab is always to release the animal back into the wild safely.
The next day we had to get up bright and early to prepare for our day of bird banding at the Runaway Creek Nature reserve. I had mentioned in a previous blog post that we set up mist nets at the reserve for this purpose. So that day we unrolled the nets so they would be able to catch some birds. You have to get up early because the birds are most active at dawn so you get the best results that way. After we set up the nets we had to wait a half an hour to see if we got any birds, go check the nets, band birds if their were any and then rinse and repeat. Quite honestly, for a four hour morning we didn’t do so hot but that’s alright because sometimes that’s just part of the job and it can’t always be exciting. That morning we only caught two birds but it was still a great time! The first was a beautiful feisty little American Pygmy Kingfisher although we weren’t able to band that bird because that particular species has an issue with banding getting stuck on their foot. So better to just release the bird than risk harming it. The second was a Hooded Warbler and this bird actually already had a band on its foot. So this was a great demonstration of the purpose of the bands. We found out he was two years old and has also been seen on the east coast in the US so it probably took the same flight as us down to Belize! So seeing those birds was a pretty cool experience and I’d definitely like to try going banding again sometime.
Later that day we took another trip back to the Belize Zoo. We were given an old jaguar skeleton that the zoo has and we got to do a cool little bone lab with it. First off it was amazing seeing their skeleton because that alone really helps you wrap your head around the power that they have. It was also interesting because the jaguar skeleton actually wasn’t too unfamiliar since they really do turn out to just be giant house cats. It was pretty much a blown up version of any normal cat that we know of at home. As a group we got to work as a team to construct the skeleton back to it’s former glory. It was almost like a weird jigsaw puzzle. Overall it was a great experience to test our knowledge of anatomy and to learn a few things about these animals. It also shows how exotic animal work can be tough but that you can use things you already know and translate to animals you’ve never seen in your life before. Like comparing house cats to lions, dogs to wolves, cows to giraffes and horses to tapirs. Obviously there are some big distinctions between all animals but these comparisons can help get a base down.
Then the day after that we took a ride over to the Community Baboon Sanctuary. So similar to the zoo and other sanctuaries we have visited these people have dedicated their livelihoods to taking care of and protecting animals and this sanctuary in particular focuses on local Howler Monkey populations. This sanctuary is particularly cool because this sanctuary is integrated around a local village. What had happened was researchers and conservationists had found a couple populations of Howler Monkey and were looking to protect them. However their living grounds were within and around a local village. What could have happened was the land would be bought out for the sanctuary and then all of the people living there would be kicked out and displaced. But a group of local women called the Women’s Conservation Group got together and helped run this sanctuary while also letting everybody keep their homes. A deal was struck with the village that everybody can stay if they just follow a few rules (such as no interacting with the monkeys, no poaching and no cutting down trees in the area) then everyone can stay. This produced a great little village of people who have a lot of respect for the land and animals around it and strive to protect and live in harmony with it. It’s great to hear conservation stories where things seem to work out for everybody and it couldn’t have been done without the group of amazing women. So we got to explore some of the sanctuary and we were actually able to see a family of howler monkeys up in the trees above us. There were 7 total and one was a young baby so it was really amazing to get to see in person and see the community’s conservation efforts actively working out.
I only have a couple more days here but there’s still a lot going on that I will have to tell you about soon!