It’s hard to believe I have only been in Belize for four days! So far, a lot of our time has been spent getting adjusted to life in Belize, and becoming acquainted with the course schedule and expectations. It has not necessarily been an “easy” transition from life in the United States to that of Belize, but it’s definitely been an interesting experience. Over the last few days, I have realized the little aspects of my life in the U.S. that I take for granted. For example, living in New Jersey, I don’t have to worry about scorpions or applying mass-amounts of bug spray on myself on a daily basis. When I go to the bathroom I don’t have to leave the comforts of my house to walk somewhere else, and I don’t have to worry about biting ants on my pillow. That being said, there are a lot of things Belize offers that my home in the United States cannot. There is a vast variety of flora and fauna that are so full of life and vibrancy. The beauty of the country shows through in the pride the people of Belize have for their country.
When I first arrived at the Tropical Education Center (TEC), I felt like I had stumbled upon a tropical summer camp. The TEC staff welcomed us to a cabin-like building with four rooms filled with beds. The bathrooms, showers, and sinks were each housed in buildings a short walk from our dorm. As I began to explore the grounds, I was struck by the fact that the grounds were designed to be immersed with the natural land. Winding pathways led to untouched areas of savannah, along with dense areas of vegetation and swampland. It was so beautiful, and I would often found myself getting lost in it (literally).
On our second day, I was able to see more of the land firsthand when we went ziplining and cave tubing. I’ve ziplined before, but only in the States, and so I was excited to see what it would be like in Belize. The ziplines were built along cliff sides, allowing us to be able to see breathtaking views of the land from a bird’s eye view. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me to jump out onto the zipline knowing we were so high up, but it was all the more rewarding with each course I completed.
After our aerial tour of Belize, we had the opportunity to go cave tubing. After a long trek through the woods, we arrived at our first cave. Our guide explained to us that the Mayan people believed the caves were the entrance to hell because the entrance of the cave itself had a teeth-like appearance to it, resembling the mouth of a monster. As we traveled along inside the caves, we were told stories of the Mayan people and the spiritualistic relationship they had to the land and the animals in it. Flowing along the river outside of the caves, I began to understand their perspective. With the trees and plant-life surrounding me in an array of different shapes and colors, and the birds chirping soothingly in the breeze, it created an incredibly peaceful experience.
The following day, we got to spend more time immersed in the nature by going on a hike through a trail that’s part of the Tropical Education Center. The rest of the day was devoted to lessons, in which we discussed the basic principles of wildlife health and medicine, along with wildlife disease. It was exciting to be able to learn about things that we would experience first-hand, which made it so exciting to have our first visit to the Belize Zoo today.
Our tour of the zoo began with a behind-the-scenes tour of the jaguar enclosures. The zookeeper that was showing us around explained that some of the jaguars were new to the zoo and not well acquainted with people, requiring them to be kept in enclosures away from the public. As we were walked past these enclosures, the jaguars would growl and keep a close eye on us. Some of the ones that had to be kept in smaller enclosures were pacing, visibly distressed. The zookeeper explained that the zoo presently did not have the means to house all of the jaguars in large enclosures. As a result, the animals were rotated between the larger and the smaller enclosures daily. It was eye opening for me to see such a large, ferocious animal feeling vulnerable much like the animals they would prey upon. It was a humbling experience to observe their behavior and the impact humans have upon their lives. While the circumstances were not ideal, the love and devotion the keepers had for the animals was palpable, and it was clear that they were doing all they could to ensure the jaguars’ stress was minimized.
Later on in the day, we had the opportunity to perform a physical examination on a tapir. Having never worked with nor seen a tapir, I was excited to learn about the procedure for caring for them. The keepers went into the enclosure first to draw blood from one of the tapirs. The tapir was hesitant at first, but as soon as the zookeeper began to brush him, he immediately relaxed and plopped himself onto the ground, enjoying the belly rub. Unfortunately, the presence of the other zoo staff, along with the sharp pressure of the needle caused him to get up, and several attempts later they were only able to draw a small amount of blood. Consequently, they had to use a blow-dart to administer a vitamin B12 supplement that they had initially been planning to give intramuscularly. It just went to show how even the animals that are docile and receptive to human interaction will sometimes choose to not cooperate. Fortunately, the tapir named Bullethead allowed myself and the other students to take his heart rate and perform a physical exam on him.
My time in Belize has been unlike any other trip I have ever taken. I have already learned so much, and I am so excited to be able to continue to learn more about the country and its animals.