The Belize Zoo is known for throwing the biggest birthday parties for their animal friends. Especially when it comes to their very celebrated Jaguar called Junior Buddy. He turned 9 today and as usually his birthday was celebrated with much fanfare. Emanuel Attended the birthday celebration of Junior Buddy and has the following report.

Last year the Belize Zoo had some 68 thousand visitors- a difference of 3 thousand visitors. The Belize zoo notes that 48% of the visitors are from local Belizeans.

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Belizean Jaguar Treated to a Birthday Party

Nine years ago Junior Buddy was born at the Belize Zoo on the George Price Highway. Today, he celebrated another milestone in the company of school children from the area. We’ve been following Junior Buddy for years and today we found him as charming and graceful as he turned nine-years-old. Jaguars are extinct in other parts of the region, so Junior Buddy is a gem in Belize. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Junior Buddy, a captive Jaguar at the Belize Zoo, celebrated his birthday in grand fashion today with students from various primary schools making the journey to the animal park for the annual festivities.

Jamal Andrewin Boone, Director of Education, Belize Zoo

Jamal Andrewin Boone

“We’re having a big celebration today for Junior and we’ve invited some of his longtime friends from the villages of La Democracia and Mahogany Heights.  They share a joint school, Saint Agnes Anglican School that serves both communities and so they are neighbors right on our doorstep and we tend to involve them as much as possible in our public education or community education events.  So we have the lower division, I believe, with us today after receiving a week of visits from our environmental educator Ms. Deidra Mahler, where they learn about the importance of jaguars that live in their neighborhoods.”

While the big cat did not indulge in cake and soft drinks like his human friends, a large hunk of cow bone was enough to get the party going.

 “You think this is a good cake for Junior Buddy? Yes!”

Junior Buddy is nine-years-old and, like most felines of his taxonomic group, his conservation status remains near threatened.

Sharon Matola

Sharon Matola, Director, Belize Zoo

“We have these cats, other countries don’t.  They are extinct in parts of their range but we still have them in Belize and I think the kids leave with a sense of pride and that’s very important.”

As a keystone species, jaguars play an important role in stabilizing the ecosystem and regulating the populations of the animals they hunt.

Sharon Matola

“He was born here nine years ago.  His mom was a sheep killer and she came here as part of our Problem Jaguar Rehab program.  She was nearly dead, believe it or not, but we didn’t know she was pregnant.  So we worked really hard to save her life and bammo, she had this baby and she rejected Junior after two days.  So when that happened I raised him to be an ambassador for his species.  In other words, to be a beautiful cat but visible to people, people friendly so that everyone could understand the beauty and the importance of jaguars.”

The proximity of feral jaguars to the communities of La Democracia and Mahogany Heights makes this lesson in conservation all the important for these kids.

Jamal Andrewin Boone

“We’re in the Central Belize Corridor where jaguars roam wild still.  And so a lot of these children their parents are used to seeing evidence of jaguars or maybe glimpsing them in the wild and so they know the jaguars are there.  So it’s just making sure they always understand the value of having these animals free and wild in Belize and the fact that they are not an immediate threat.  Most of the time they are just there, they’re passing through like the rest of us and so this is one of the ways we do it.  We use something, a positive icon which is Junior Buddy.  He’s very charismatic, he’s been around people his entire life and so he demonstrates their intelligence, their beauty, their charisma.”

And the reason for celebrating this annual milestone?

Jamal Andrewin Boone

“As well known as Junior is it’s always highly relevant to keep it, the power of education is keeping it constant.  So you know, you have to keep it in people’s mindsets, constantly reminding them in positive ways why wildlife is an important part of Belize’s identity, you know, a part of our culture, part of our economy, everything.  So people don’t take it for granted these things that we have that some other countries can’t even boast to have.  In other words, other Central American neighbors they have no tapirs left, they barely have jaguars, they have other species that are dwindling but Belize can still boast a healthy jaguar population among other wildlife and that is something we can be proud and should be proud of as a Central American nation.”

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