Cool cats of Belize

A Close Encounter With a Belize Jaguar

Cool cats of Belize

Belize Zoo

 

I’m having second thoughts as I hear the clink of the cage being locked.

I’m inside — along with four other people — waiting for a wild animal to be let loose.

“He’s stalking us,” says Jamal Andrewin, an environmental educator at the Belize Zoo.

Sitting with a bucket of chicken feet, Andrewin calls for the animal to come closer.

Next thing I know, there is a 115-pound jaguar just inches from my face and I can’t help but feel like a scared caged animal myself.

I’m in the Belize jungle with Island Expeditions, which specializes in adventure tourism to this country and parts of Mexico. I am learning about the history, culture and environment of the Central American nation first-hand on the Canadian travel company’s 10-day Glover’s Reef and River of Caves tour.

A group of seven of us, ranging in age from late 20s to 60s, spent the morning scaling ancient Mayan pyramids. We are spending the afternoon getting up close and personal with native Belize animals.

After a few moments of staring to the jaguar’s huge black eyes, I begin to think 6-year-old Junior is more like my house cat than a nocturnal hunting machine.

On Anderwin’s request, the big cat rolls around on the ground, poses belly-up for us, and gives high-fives.

Suddenly, he jumps on top of the cage, and I can see huge sharp claws on paws as big as my hand. When Junior bites into a chicken foot, I can hear him easily snap the bones of the crunchy treat and wonder how easily he could take a bite of me.

Though he knows a few tricks, Junior is far from domesticated.

Born in captivity at the Belize Zoo, Junior became too rough to play with humans at five-months-old, but his exposure to people and willingness to pose for a good picture has made him the ambassador of the zoo’s jaguar recovery program.

Junior is one of a dozen jaguars at the Belize Zoo, which only shelters animals that are injured, found or born in captivity, or in danger of being killed.

Jaguars are the largest and most powerful cats in the Western Hemisphere — and third largest in the world after lions and tigers. With development threatening the natural habitat of jaguars and their prey, the big cats have turned to hunting livestock, and increasing numbers are being shot by farmers.

Andrewin says Belize is a developing country and he doesn’t judge a father who shoots a wild animal to feed his family. The problem comes when animals are over hunted, which threatens the very future of the species and the ecosystem as a whole.

Belizians have many myths and superstitions about wild animals because — for many — their only encounters with them have been negative.

When the Belize Zoo was started in the 1980s by Susan Matola, she discovered many visitors were Belizians who wanted to see their own native wildlife.

The tapir — a vegetarian forest dweller that is now a beloved national animal — once had a nasty reputation for eating human flesh.

To give the endangered animal a new public image, the zoo started celebrating the birthday of April, its resident tapir. They invited school kids every year, and soon the phenomenon caught on. Now 29, April has met politicians and celebrities including Cameron Diaz. CNN even came down to celebrate April’s Sweet 16.

“They do what the ones in the wild can’t — be ambassadors for their species,” Andrewin says.

The Belize Zoo has done a lot to teach a new generation of Belizians and tourists about the wildlife hidden away in the country’s tropical forests. And Island Expeditions supports and generates funds for the zoo’s conservation and educational efforts. Many of Island Expeditions Belize trips also include a visit to the facility. Andrewin fell in love with wildlife through one of the zoo’s summer camps for teens. Now he plans to complete a masters degree in zoology through correspondence while continuing to educate school and tour groups.

NEED TO KNOW

For information on trips, contact www.islandexpeditions.com or 1-800-667-1630. For more on the Belize Zoo, see www.belizezoo.org.

Source: http://www.ottawasun.com

Top Places to Stay in Belize






Belize Tour Companies and Travel Agents

Belize Real Estate Opportunities






June 29, 2018

How the Belize Barrier Reef Beat the Endangered List

An oil drilling moratorium, development restrictions and fishing reform has helped the 200-mile-reef come off Unesco’s endangered world heritage sites...
Read More
June 26, 2018

What the New Alaia Belize Will Look Like

The newest addition to Belize’s fast-growing hotel pipeline is on track for 2020, and now we’ve gotten the exclusive first...
Read More
June 26, 2018

Saving the underwater wonder world of Belize’s reef

Just a stone’s throw off the coast of Belize, brightly colored tropical fish mingle with sharks, manta rays and sea...
Read More
June 26, 2018

RCL Exclusive Your Off-the-Grid Guide to Belize

Belize is the tropical vacation version of a perfect meal. Light appetizer, indulgent main course, decadent dessert and booze …...
Read More
June 17, 2018

Latham: Hard work must be the national symbol of Belize

BELIZE CITY, Belize — Belize is tiny for a country — about the land size of Maryland — but it...
Read More
June 17, 2018

7 Ambergris Caye Restaurants Secret Special Request Options

Once you have lived on Ambergris Caye awhile, you get to know which restaurants have off-menu special request options. Read...
Read More
June 12, 2018

Please Belize Me: Ten Reasons to Put Ambergris Caye on Travel List

After a year of procrastination and poor planning, Belize finally made it on my to do list in 2018. Read...
Read More
June 12, 2018

Autograph Collection Hotels Set to Debut in Belize with the Opening of Alaia

Autograph Collection Hotels, in partnership with owner and developer Andrew Ashcroft, today announced the brand will debut in Belize with the...
Read More
June 12, 2018

5 Reasons to Vacation in Belize this Summer

Summer is the busiest season for travel to Europe. That’s where most vacationers are headed during the months of June,...
Read More
1 2 3 19

Comments

comments

0 Comments

Leave a Comment

Login

Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Don't have account. Register

Lost Password

Register

Close
Please support the site
By clicking any of these buttons you help our site to get better
Banner-1