Waterfall on the Tiger Ferns Trail at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
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Thursday September 15, 2011

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Waterfall on the Tiger Ferns Trail at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is definitely my sort of place! I spent three full days here at the park headquarters, and I could easily have occupied myself much longer.

There's lots of good wildlife here, including birds, mammals like coatimundi and opossums, birds, reptiles and bugs. Although the sanctuary was primarily created as a reserve for jaguars, the chances of seeing one are exceedingly slim, unless you count the painted plaster ones at the interpretive center!

Unfortunately the bunkrooms had a bit too much wildlife, in the form of ticks or some other sort of blood-sucking bugs which made quite a mess of my legs. I bought some repellent from one of the rangers who explained the situation to me, but I wish he'd told me about them before I was bitten!

There are several good trails in the park, but when I'm looking for bugs and other interesting wildlife my pace is glacial, so I only covered a small part of what's available.

There's a small river you can go tubing on, and several streams feed waterfalls like this one on the Tiger Ferns trail.

I probably spent as much time out in the jungle at night as I did during the daytime. A lot of wildlife, like some snakes and mammals, are nocturnal, and the same is also true of a lot of bugs.

I saw more snakes here than anywhere else in Belize, including the one I was most looking for, the deadly fer-de-lance. It's rightly the most feared snake in Central America, with a highly venomous bite that can do some serious damage. I always look very carefully where I'm walking, even during the daytime, in case I accidentally pass too close to one of these well-camouflaged critters. However I didn't find it on one of the trails, instead it was in the middle of the road when I was driving back at night from dinner in Maya Landing. I couldn't believe my luck, but I had my camera and flash ready on the seat beside me, and got out to take several photos, from what I hoped was a safe distance!

Unfortunately I found out that the battery in the minivan I rented was knackered (dead, deceased, no longer entirely functional), and twice the rangers had to use the car battery powering the park's two-way radio to get me started. Luckily, the owner of the place where I'd been staying and eating in Maya Center had a spare battery, which he sold to me.

The fer-de-lance or terciopelo is the most feared snake in Central America, and with good reason - it's the cause of most serious snakebites in the areas where it lives. The name fer-de-lance isn't used in the countries where this snake lives, and there's a different snake called fer-de-lance in South America, so terciopelo is probably a more appropriate name. Terciopelo is Spanish for "velvet", literally meaning "third skin". In Belize it's also called the Tommygoff or yellowjaw.

This is the snake I most wanted to see while I was in the country, and I got lucky coming back from dinner at Maya Landing to the park headquarters at the Cockscomb jaguar reserve. This beautiful six footer was stretched across the road, so I grabbed my camera and flash, jumped out of the van and approached it to get some photos. I was able to get five or six before it turned tail and headed back into the jungle. Luckily I didn't follow, because it has a reputation for initially fleeing and then turning around and attacking.

Females of this species can reach two and a half meters in length and weigh six kilograms, making them one of the heaviest of all venomous snakes. The fangs can be an impressive 2.5 centimeters long. The terciopelo is said to be very unpredictable and very willing to defend itself by striking. However, most bites happen when one enters a house and strikes a person, or a person walks too close to one without realizing that it's there. For this reason I was ultra careful whenever I was walking around the forest in Belize, especially at night. Although the great majority of people recover from terciopelo bites, it's very common to have severe necrosis which requires fingers, toes or whole limbs to be amputated.

Photograph by Richard Seaman

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