And just like that, it’s our final day of class! The end of this week has been focused on wrapping up all of our projects.
Wednesday morning we headed out to Runaway Creek for bird banding. We opened up the nets that we had set up the previous week so that they would catch birds that are flying by. Approximately 40 minutes after opening up the nets, we returned to see whether there were birds in any of them, and found that we had captured one bird. Our nature guide Ray is an experienced birdbander, and explained to us the process of banding. After carefully untangling the bird from the net, Ray brought the bird over to our table of equipment. After identifying the bird as a Yellow-green Vireo, we recorded the bird’s characteristics (weight, sex, body score, etc.) and banded it with a small metal bracelet. Ray explained that banding is done throughout the Americas in order to identify the birds’ migration patterns, which are monitored via a worldwide database.
Later on in the day, we ventured over to some of the caves found at the Reserve. As we trudged
through the forest, the climb became more and more steep. When we finally reached the top, we found the
caves. My eyes were immediately drawn to a small painting done on the wall next to the cave entrance. Ray explained that this was a Mayan painting of a jaguar from approximately 300 A.D. The Mayans used annatto dye from the seeds of the achiote tree to paint it. It was incredible to me that the paintings have been able to withstand the test time and the elements. I felt humbled to be able to have a glimpse of the Mayan culture first-hand.
The following day, we ventured over to the zoo to conduct necropsies. Our course instructor and veterinarian, Dr. AJ Runey, explained to us the proper procedures and methods for conducting a necropsy. The first animal we looked at was a Barn owl whose cause of death was unknown. As we examined the bird, Dr. AJ explained to us the importance of knowing what the species “normally” looks like internally in order to identify abnormalities. The abnormalities in turn have the potential of determining the cause of death. It was very interesting to learn about the process and all of the different factors that go into it. While we were conducting the procedure, Dr. AJ told us about different necropsies she has done in the past, including one on a giraffe that took over five hours to complete!
That afternoon, we had the opportunity to do our enrichment projects. In order to alleviate the stresses that come with life in captivity, zoos often have “enrichment devices” which aim to increase the animal’s activity levels, and allow them to express behaviors that they would have in the wild. My classmates and I were split up into pairs and groups of three to come up with an enrichment project for an animal of our choice at the zoo. One of the groups froze chicken in ice for the jaguars, so the animals would have to work to get to the food. Another group worked with the Spider monkeys, and drilled holes into a piece of bamboo so that they could stick fruit into it. The bamboo was then hung in the trees. It was so cool to watch the monkeys find the food, and problem-solve in order to get to the fruit. My partner and I worked with the jaguarundis, a small wild cat species. We chose them because of their playful and inquisitive nature, and built our enrichment device based upon that. With the help of a zookeeper, we took coconuts and cut holes into them, draining them of their water. We then filled half of them with chicken, and the other half with cinnamon. We used spices in addition to food as enticement because the animals are strongly guided by their sense of smell. When we placed the coconuts into the enclosures, the jaguarundis were quick to find the new objects and investigate them. In no time they were able to find the chicken and eat it. It was really special to be able to see that I was able to make an impact. I loved that our work enriched their lives, if only for an hour. One of the jaguarundis was known to pace throughout the day—a behavior that suggests the animal is stressed—and while the coconuts were in the enclosure, she did not pace at all.
Today was our final day of class. This morning we took our final exam, which covered everything that we had learned these past two weeks. Afterwards, each of us did presentations on a topic of our choice. I chose to do my project on jaguar care and conservation.
Tomorrow we head to the airport in the morning to begin our journeys to our respective homes all over the United States. It is such a bittersweet feeling to know that I get to go home, but I also have to leave Belize and all of the wonderful people I have met here.