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#433243 - 03/17/12 02:33 PM 10 Reasons the Belize Zoo is a Must Do
Marty Offline

We love animals, furry, scaly, soft or spiky. Animals are fascinating to us and especially to our children. On our way back from Cayo with our visiting friends, the Castenadas, we stopped at the Belize Zoo. When it comes to visiting a zoo, we all expect interesting animals and exhibits and the Belize Zoo definitely scores well on this account.

A zoo is a zoo, right? Wrong. This is one of the most natural zoos that we have ever been to. The animals are all from Belize and it is a great opportunity to actually see all these beautiful jungle animals, as they are quite elusive in the jungle. All animals present in the Belize Zoo are native to the region. They have not been captured from the wild, but rather donated by other zoos, removed from the illegal pet trade, rescued, abandoned, orphaned, or bred in captivity.

10 Reasons to Make the Belize Zoo a Must Do

1. The Animals, of course!

There is nowhere else in Belize that you are going to be able to see some of these magnificent creatures. The Belize Zoo is it. In a span of 2 hours, we saw animals that trek the wild jungles of Belize. The zoo doesn’t have big indoor exhibits, it is all outside making spotting animals easy, even an elusive Puma is fairly easy to spot with a keen eye (okay, admittedly, the zoo helper spotted him for us).

Puma at the Belize Zoo

Puma at the Belize Zoo

2. The Belize Zoo has 100% Natural habitats

I can't remember the name of this beautiful bird.

You won’t find fake concrete that is painted to look like rocks at this zoo. The animals are all native to Belize and therefore, are already in their native environment. There is jungle growing all over them and only occasionally can you see the fencing that is used to contain the animals.

3. It’s on the way to everywhere in Belize.

The Belize Zoo is located between Belize City and Belmopan, so if you are traveling by bus or car, it’s on your way. Whether you are trying to get to the Southern Coast of Belize or to the Cayo District…it’s on the way. It is only about a 30 minute bus ride from the Belize City bus station. Simply tell the bus driver you want to go to the Belize Zoo and they’ll drop you off right in front of it. A short 3 minute walk down the road and you’ll find the one and only ticket booth.

4. A nice, relaxing half day trip – perfect for kids!

It will take you less than 2 hours to see it all. The zoo is big enough to be really interesting, but small enough where even little kids won’t tire walking through all of it. Kids will be entertained trying to spot the animals and running from animal to animal. The zoo is more like going on a hike than walking through a zoo. There are interesting things all over to look at.

Running through the live, growing tunnel at the Belize Zoo

Running through the live, growing tunnel at the Belize Zoo

5. Smell the stinkiest animals in Belize

We’re not kidding. When you turn the corner, you’ll know you are near the peccaries.

Really, really stinky Peccary. They love their own distinct fragrance.

Really, really stinky Peccary. They love their own distinct fragrance.

6. Stare in awe at the most beautiful eagle

The most magnificent Harpy Eagle

The most magnificent Harpy Eagle

The Harpy Eagle is incredibly regal to see in person. They just look like royalty. The Harpy Eagle is the largest and most powerful eagle in the world! They have the best eyesight and hearing for catching prey like iguanas, ant eaters, snakes, and rodents.

7. Get up close and personal with a Boa Constrictor

Going in for a big Boa smooch!

Going in for a big Boa smooch!

Miss I had the pleasure of nearly kissing a boa constrictor and you can too! Andy, a helper at the zoo, was showing off this Boa and I got to hold and feel her powerful muscles wrap around my wrist. She’s amazingly strong and her skin felt smooth.

8. Spot a Jaguar in Belize

You probably won’t have much luck spotting a Jaguar in the jungles of Belize, but here at the zoo…it’s a guarantee. Junior the Jaguar is famous at the Belize Zoo and he is very friendly. He’s been raised in the zoo and likes to relax in the shade.

Junior rests in the shade at the Belize Zoo - a rare chance to see a Jaguar

Junior rests in the shade at the Belize Zoo - a rare chance to see a Jaguar

The opportunity to play with junior is available for $100 bzd. Kids can feed him, touch him and get a real close up experience. We didn’t do this, but it sure tempted us.

We did see Junior up close during feeding time. Junior was being fed chicken feet and we were real close:

Junior the Jaguar feeds on chicken feet

Junior the Jaguar feeds on chicken feet

9. Because you are kind and want to donate

The Belize Zoo solely relies on entrance fees and the sale of gift items and snacks to run the zoo. They are barely making it. They receive no funding from the government, none. And the people that work there are sweet, knowledgeable and so super friendly, you’ll want to donate even more. Even if it’s just a few dollars, it REALLY helps.

Donate to the Belize Zoo now

10. You can stay overnight at the TEC

Our cabin in the woods

Our cabin in the woods

The Zoo has a Tropical Education Center (TEC) that has dorms, cabins and pond houses. The different style lodging is connected together with trails and we felt like we were camping. We stayed in a pond house, a fully screened-in, raised cabin situated in a private setting among beautiful pine and palm trees. Our cabin had 2 queen beds, a little kitchenette and a bathroom with hot and cold water. It also had a huge screened in deck that wrapped around 2 sides of the house. The cost of staying here ($60-80 US for 2 people) includes a delicious dinner and breakfast, so you don’t have to worry about leaving this forest paradise. It is about a 3 minute ride to the zoo which they will provide.

Our porch where we spent relaxing after the Zoo

Our porch where we spent relaxing after the Zoo

Details:

Admission: $15 US for Adults and $5 US for Children.
Belize residents get a discount: $5 bzd ($2.50US) for Adults and $1 bzd ($0.50US) for Children.

Before you get your panties in a bunch about the discrepancy in admission fees, realize that you probably make 20-50x the salary of a typical Belize resident. Plus, by the end of your zoo tour, you will more than likely be so impressed by the zoo, that on top of your entrance fee, you’ll also make a donation like we did.

Donate to the Belize Zoo now

Best time to go: in the afternoon. There are school groups that occasionally visit the zoo, but they are usually gone by noon. So, if you want the zoo to yourself, like we did, go in the afternoon.
The Zoo also has a nighttime tour that came highly recommended. Most of the animals are nocturnal and a night tour (starts at 6 pm) is a good way to see them during their most active part of the day. Since we had children that are usually sleeping by 7 pm, we didn’t do the nocturnal tour, but we were able to see every animal during the day.

Contact: Belize Zoo website: http://www.BelizeZoo.org

Oh, and don’t forget to Donate…please.

Donate to the Belize Zoo now

We highly recommend visiting the Belize Zoo…and think that a trip to Belize is not complete without seeing the beautiful animals that inhabit it.


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#434902 - 04/05/12 03:38 PM Re: 10 Reasons the Belize Zoo is a Must Do [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize Zoo - Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh No!

The 'Best Little Zoo in the World'

If you are looking for cages filled with animals from Africa, Asia or the Antarctica, you had better reset your course for San Diego. But if you find yourself in Belize, I would encourage you to seek out the Belize Zoo. It advertises itself as the "Best Little Zoo in the World." Whether that's true or not, the claim is certainly not without merit.

Just north of Belize City, the facility is easily accessible. Housed within the confines of a rain forest, it's easy for the visitor to feel like they are on an expedition. The grounds span 29 acres encased under the tropical canopy. Well-groomed dirt paths lead you to the ticket office where, once a ticket is purchased, you are allowed to enter the local menagerie.

Exotic animals abound, more than 150 in total, all indigenous to Belize. Brightly colored reptiles and amphibians are showcased along with their more camouflaged kin. Blue frogs and red hued snakes lurk silently behind glass, while crocodiles lay almost lifeless in pools of water. And, new species are still being discovered annually.

With 543 species of birds living in Belize, the zoo only houses a small sample of its population. For me, the giant black vulture was memorable, and who can visit a jungle without thinking of the toucan.

As for the mammals, the large cats are definitely must sees. Ocelots to jaguars are showcased. I learned that a black panther was just the latter with a pigmentation disorder. Tapirs and Howler monkeys may be less dangerous, but no less exotic. It's quickly apparent on how close you can actually get to the animals. Although secure, tourists' views are not hampered by moats or other large separation obstacles.

There are several paths that you can follow, all wind and meander throughout the establishment. It is impossible to get lost, but it is easy to pass by exhibits if you are not careful. Maps are provided and I would strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of them.

Although it is easy enough to view the zoo in one day, lodging is available at the park. Three types of hospitality are offered. The top, a single cabin priced at $84, $60 will get you a mid-level cabana, and for those on a budget, dormitory housing is available for about $30 a night.

The zoo provides a glimpse into the animals and fauna that abound in Belize. Arguments can be made for or against the morality of such establishments. However, here in the dense jungles of Central America, it would be virtually impossible to spot even one of these secretive, illusive animals. In its favor, the zoo provides education and exhibits on the importance of conservation. A central theme is that if we were all more attentive and practiced better conservation methods, perhaps zoos would not be necessary.

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#439777 - 06/05/12 02:10 PM Re: 10 Reasons the Belize Zoo is a Must Do [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

It’s A Jungle Out There At The Belize Zoo

When the Belize Tourst Board offered me a press trip to Belize. I jumped at the opportunity. When they told me that upon arrival I would be whisked off to the Belize Zoo, I was skeptical if this first stop would be worth a visit. My feeling is that zoos are mostly depressing places. I figured that there would be imported Lions, Tigers, and Giraffes. I could not have been more wrong.

A Lazy Tapir

The Belize Zoo houses only native animals of Belize. The zoo sits on 29 acres of land, located 40 miles outside of Belize City, so it was a natural stop en route to my first stay at the Cave Branch Eco Resort and Tree Houses. The zoo is home to around 170 animals, all native of Belize and the majority are injured animals brought in to heal and rehabilitate from injuries, orphaned or donated from locals who have kept some of the animals as pets. The animals are not captured from the wild, rather they are rescue animals. You walk on dirt pathways and natural flora circumnavigating the animals in a close setting to their home in the wilds.

What made the zoo a must are the facilities and small size of the area. The zoo tries as best as possible to replicate the natural environment of animals in the wild. The zoo educates children on their native fauna. Even Belizeans will not find all of these species out in the wild. As a firm believer in changing the world for the better by educating people, the fact that the zoo attempts to teach the locals not to harm, hunt, or kill these precious native species of the Belize jungle made my first stop a worthwhile visit.

The Illusive Jaguar

Furthermore, when would I ever see a Tapir, Puma, Ocelots, Jaguars, Peccari, King Vultures, Parrots, Kinkajou, Guarimundi, and local snake species and more. The chances of seeing these mostly nocturnal animals on a trip to the Mayan Ruins is highly unlikely.

Don’t expect to see a Jaguar or even a Toucan on your trip to the rainforest.

Find some time on your visit to Belize to pay a visit to a most natural zoo. A most educational experience. A chance to view up close the wildlife of Belize.

About the Author: Nick Kontis – Travel Expert and Founder of the World Travel List

Nick Kontis started out as a world traveler at an early age traveling back and forth between California and Greece every summer. But it was a backpacking trip around the world at age 24 that proved to be a life changing experience. After traveling by car, train, plane, bike and, boat around the world, it would be this trip of a lifetime that would lead to a life as a travel entrepreneur and world traveler. Nick has been on both radio and television. Featured on Arthur Frommer’s television show, and referred by Lonely Planet writers. Frequently mentioned as the “father of around the world airfares.” Arthur Frommer once said, “If Jules Verne were alive today he would use Nick to go around the world in 80 days.” Nick and his various travel companies have sent over 10,000 people taking their dream trip through airfare discounts of as much as 50% off the airlines published fares. Now Nick promotes travel through his World Travel List and ‘Trip Rambler’ by World Travel List. Having traveled to over 80 countries Nick hopes to inspire others to travel the world. 80 countries visited and counting follow Nick’s “passion for travel” on the World Travel List

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#443642 - 07/31/12 01:38 PM Re: 10 Reasons the Belize Zoo is a Must Do [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize Zoo

The Belize Zoo is about 50 kilometres outside of Belize City, down the Western Highway and on the way to Belmopan and the west and south of the country. It’s a painless pit stop if you’re travelling in those directions, or an easy day trip if you’re based in Belize City or Belmopan. And, unless you’re an expert wildlife photographer with a year to spend in the country, it’s the only place that you’ll see the rarer animals of Belize (not to mention the best place to see the rest of them).

All the zoo’s species are native to Belize, so you won’t see any tigers or polar bears, but you will see all of the country’s exotic wildlife, including the species that you’d never see in the wild, like the jaguar. The local nature of the occupants means the zoo is quite small (you can see it all in a couple of hours), but it does give a great introduction to the wildlife of Belize and Central America.

Being in the middle of nowhere (like many places in Belize!), the zoo is surrounded by empty jungle, and its environment is the same as the land that surrounds it. Gravel trails through the forest are one of the few man-made things inside the grounds – rather than metal cages or concrete enclosures, the animals are mainly housed in open, natural-looking areas, so the place feels less like an animal prison and more like a zoological country club.

Like many zoos around the world, Belize’s has animals that have been bred in captivity and ones that have been donated by other facilities. But they also have specimens that have come from private owners, and ones that have been rescued from traps or taken in to avoid angry gun-toting farmers (unsurprisingly, the farmers aren’t too happy with any animal that eats their animals!). And unlike some zoos, Belize’s has never resorted to supplementing its menagerie with captured animals taken from the wild. These conventions, along with the zoo’s Tropical Education Center and successful breeding programmes, have given it a high reputation throughout the Americas.

In 1983 a filmmaking team came to Belize to make a wildlife documentary called Path of the Rain Gods. By the time filming was over, the animals that the team had collected for the film had become tame, the crew were leaving the country, there was no money left, and no one knew what to do with 17 animals that couldn’t be released into the wild. Sharon Matola (the film’s animal handler) stayed behind with her furry charges and started the zoo.

It soon became apparent that Belizeans were largely unfamiliar with the native animals of their own country, and had many misconceptions and superstitions about them (many of which involved killing and eating them!). The zoo’s focus expanded, and it now educates residents and visitors alike about the native wildlife and its conservation, with all Belizean children getting in free (and Belizean adults getting in for a few dollars).

The zoo’s animals include all the Belizean cats, from the jaguar and puma all the way to the tiny jaguarundi (a small ginger cat with a hoarse throaty purr that looks and sounds like an domestic moggy with asthma). Another famous resident is the tapir (the country’s national animal), a fat beast that looks somewhere between a pig and a cow, and has a prehensile snout and a reputation for spraying its urine at curious visitors. There are howler monkeys (who are one of the loudest animals and whose crepuscular roars can be heard for miles). And there are a number of cute furry critters, with exotic names like agouti, gibnut, kinkajou, and coatimundi.

Birds include many colourful avians (Belize is a popular destination for twitchers), such as the ridiculously-colourful scarlet macaw, the equally-beautiful keel-billed toucan (the country’s national bird), the enormous jabiru stork, and the bizarre-looking harpy eagle. All the animals have ‘amusing’ descriptions of their appearance, behaviour or habitat, some of which are as interesting as the animals themselves.

In addition to being the founder and director of the zoo, Sharon Matola (known throughout the country as ‘The Zoo Lady’) is a famous educator and conservationist. Her fieldwork researching the endangered scarlet macaw in central Belize and her opposition to a dam that the PUP government of the day were pushing through brought international attention to the murky world of Belizean politics and business – the dam was roundly criticised by conservationists, engineers and accountants as being environmentally damaging, architecturally unsound and financially dubious. Despite the protesters and their evidence, the dam went ahead anyway, some people in Belize (and some international companies) increased their money and power, the area upriver from the dam flooded (driving away the macaws), and the area downriver from the dam dried up (making it unusable for the local people). And electricity prices went up and the country still buys power from abroad (the PUP’s rationale for the dam was to lower electricity rates and become more energy self-sufficient). The whole engrossing (and disturbing) story of greed, corruption, clandestine deals, secret relationships, and larger-than-life personalities is documented in Bruce Barcott’s excellent book The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, which not only tells the story of the dam and its opposition, but is a great introduction to the history, people, politics and environment of Belize, and reads like a thriller as much as it does a non-fiction book – if you’re coming to Belize for any reason and any length of time, I recommend this book.

I also recommend visiting the zoo if you have the time – it’s the kind of place that even people who don’t like zoos (i.e. me) like visiting. The only downside is the price – the locals may get in free or cheap, but tourists and non-Belizeans have to stump up BZ$30 (US$15, or UK£10). But if you don’t mind the price (and whatever price you pay will be helping one of the country’s most important organisations), the zoo should definitely be on your Belizean ‘to do’ list.

by John Pascoe


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