He turned 5 today, and keeping with tradition, the World's Best Little Zoo threw a lavish party befitting one of their most celebrated attractions.
Junior Buddy was the Jaguar cub born in captivity and rejected by his mother, adopted by the Belize Zoo, and in a very short period of time became an international ambassador for Jaguars worldwide.
But more than that, he's become the favorite of thousands of Belizean students who came en masse to his birthday bash today.
Jim McFadzean had an invite to the party and has this report:
Jim McFadzean Reporting
Hundreds showed up for the party today! Including students from St. Agnes Anglican Pre-School in La Democracia, and Howard Smith Nazarene Primary School of Benque Viejo del Carmen. Once the man of the hour was announced, he came out prancing like the movie star he's become.
The party not only celebrates Junior Buddy's 5th birthday, but also his incredible story of survival, and how important an addition he has become to the folks at the Zoo, since his arrival in 2009.
Sharon Matola - Director, Belize Zoo
"Junior Buddy's mom was a problem jaguar. She was a sheep killer and she came to us - she had been trapped, she came to the zoo for our rehab program nearly dead, I mean we didn't think we can save her, she was so bad, and we worked hard at keeping her alive but didn't know she was pregnant. 2 months after she was here she had the Junior Buddy and unfortunately - and I really mean that - she rejected him after 2 days which happens now and again in captivity, so we raised him and I decided to train him to be an ambassador for his species."
Not only is Junior Buddy one of the major attractions at the Zoo, but he has become an internationally renowned Jaguar.
"Kids love him. They find out about jaguars; the fall in - that's the whole idea, you know what, that cat has done more for jaguars everywhere than anything else I can think of. How can you not love this jaguar when he is just so personable and such a cool cat?"
A cool cat that deserves a cool and lavish bash!
"All the other special residence of the Belize zoo get this kind of lavish treatment on their birthday?"
"Well you know April the tapir, my goodness, the girl is turning 29 this year, she is having her lavish party. Panama the harpy eagle has his lavish party; I won't allow them to have a lavish party for me, it's too depressing for me."
Jamal Andrewin, Environmental Educator at the Zoo says it's important to engage students at an early age by giving them a close-up experience with some of nature's most important predators.
Jamal Andrewin - Environmental Educator, Belize Zoo
"For the zoo, we find it very rewarding that they can actually come out to the zoo for these events, our birthday parties, you know we have it for April the Tapir, Panama the Harp eagle and today Junior the jaguar 5th birthday party. And we fine it far more engaging for them rather than you know - it's all fun and well for them to learn about them in school and maybe see pictures but for them to actually get the opportunity to come out to the zoo and see the animals in person, while there learning about their natural history, an importance in our forest we find it has a greater impact on the children, and for the long term as well - because they take that back to their families and villages and so on."
"How many Jaguars are at the zoo?"
"At the moment, we have 3 that are on main display, that's Junior, his mom and a rescue that came from cotton tree called CT - he's one of the older Jaguars We also have upwards of 10 off site that are part of our problem Jaguar rehab program. These are all animals that are worked with constantly, every single day until their at a specific personality or demeanor that they can actually interact with people and so on. And from there, there either use for public education here at the zoo or sent to other zoo's in the states to help with the genetic population up there."
"Explain for us; why did Junior Buddy get meat instead of chicken today?"
"Because it's his special day, don't you do something special for your birthday?"
And so while Junior Buddy continues to enjoy the rest of his birthday treat, students like the ones behind me will go home with a much better understanding and appreciation of Junior Buddy and all his friends and family that reside here at the World's Best Little Zoo!
The Belize Zoo welcomed an estimated 50 Thousand visitors last year, and for the first time in its history, there were more international than local visitors. Matola says the Zoo is presently hard at work making its entire 29 acres wheelchair accessible.