Belize Zoo: An Animal Refuge
I wasn’t too sure beforehand. A zoo? I hadn’t been to one in over a decade for lack of desire to participate in cruelty to animals. But this one sounded different. The zoo began in 1983 by Sharon Matola. The Belize Zoo was a last effort to save the 17 animals left from the filming of a nature documentary here in Central America. Yeah, even the good guys can screw things up. So the animals that lived in Belize were rehabilitated and given their new home on the 29 acres of tropical land with the wildlife of Belize.
Since then, the Belize zoo has rescued many wild animals in need, and placed them in this lovely zoo where all the animals are in their natural habitats. No, not like elephants in Edmonton. This place sounded legit. I was pretty excited to get to see some cool animals without sacrificing my ethics. You know me, I’m a vegetarian and all; I never want to participate in cruelty to animals if I can avoid it. Although I love seeing animals, I won’t step foot in a zoo if it harms the animals. Not worth it.
We woke up early (as per usual) and headed to the bus stop. Without a clue which bus to get, we just systematically asked each one if it went to the zoo. Conveniently, everyone in Belize speaks English, so I didn’t have to use my spotty Spanish skills. This made life significantly easier.
Four dollars and an hour or so on the bus from San Ignacio later, and we were there. The Belize zoo entrance fee is only fifteen dollars, so it was much cheaper to do it this way than with a tour. Plus, I quite like wandering around on my own. Who wants to be on an organized tour? You’re on a crowded bus, you’re on their time, and you can’t just walk around freely, spending as much or as little time in each place. Also, there were tons of sign posts explaining things about the different animals. No need for a guide.
The Belize zoo and tropical education center was a giant wow from the get go, and awed both me and Theo. It quickly became my favourite zoo in the world. We saw the national animal of Belize, the tapir, for the first time, and gazed at everything from huge vultures and eagles to the scarlet macaw, harpy eagle, and monkeys swinging from the trees (which was our favourite – the howler monkey or the spider monkey, we couldn’t quite decide!) All the animals here are native to Belize, which is awesome. They are also wild rescue animals, which is part of what makes Belize Zoo unlike many other zoos.
The highlights, of course, we saved for the end. We saw many kitties along the way (read: ocelots, pumas, other vicious kitties we wanted desperately to cuddle). But it was the jaguars that blew us away over and above the other animals. They lay there unmoving, careless of our presence, yet majestic (and begging for cuddles from me, I just knew it). No, mom, I didn’t cuddle a jaguar, don’t worry. But I totally wanted to. For the love of god, one was named Junior Buddy. How could you not want to cuddle him?! And if Theo is reading this, shut up, you know you were dying to cuddle them all too.
The Best Part
Of course, this zoo had one more epic gem of an animal to offer us: the toucan – Belize’s national bird (have you noticed that Belize has the best national everything? Their national dish is rice and beans! Life is sweet!) Neither of us had ever seen one before, so we squealed at the sight of that Fruit Loops bird. And when we found out we could pay an extra $5 to meet and feed Runt, the blind-in-one-eye rescued toucan, we were on it.
I’m not going to lie, there were some toucan selfies. It was so unbelievably cool hanging out with and feeding Runt the toucan. We both fell a bit in love with the little guy. He was well worth the five dollars – plus, like I said, entrance was only fifteen dollars! What’s an extra five dollars at that point?! If you’ve never encountered a toucan – and I know you’ve never hand fed one – you definitely have to do this. Seriously. Five dollars to hand feed a toucan that’s blind in one eye. We even had to feed him from a specific side because of the eye. But don’t feel bad for runt. He was rescued and is in a wonderful place. He’s so friendly, and clearly likes being there, being fed little bits of chopped up fruit by excited tourists. And we very much loved him.
It was so nice to see how well they treat the animals in this zoo. They’re not there for your viewing pleasure. They’re there because they’ve been rescued, and the money you pay to get in (which is so little an entrance fee anyways) is to keep the conservation project going. This place isn’t money hungry, showing you animals that don’t belong in the country. They’re just trying to help out the local population. Animals in need are found in nature, and they take them in to rehabilitate them. That is what your money is going towards. And it’s beautiful. Plus, it’s such a fun place to go, and is worthwhile for the whole family (or the two random adults who just absolutely adore animals and had to go!)
In all, I can’t say enough about how awesome this zoo is. Seriously, check it out if you’re in the area, especially if you’re an animal lover! It’s super easy to get to from San Ignacio or Belize City on the Western Highway, and we had fun hitchhiking back when the bus was taking a while (okay, probably not even all that long, we just wanted a little adventure!) Oh, and they even do night tours for something really different!
And don’t forget to read my other tales about Belize – as it was a trip of its own, from doing the MayaWalk ATM Cave Tour to meeting a hustler who got us from Belize City to San Ignacio (and very much admitted that he was a hustler – because that’s just how he rolls). I’d never really thought about going to Belize before, but between the incredibly amazing tours we went on, the hustler we met and the hitchhiking we did, paired with the amazing experience of the Belize Zoo, it was just an incredible adventure. I think if you asked either me or Theo you’d get the same answer: yes, we’d go back in a heartbeat. Can we right this second, perhaps? That would be swell.
P.S. I couldn’t get a great shot of the monkeys, but Theo would kill me if I didn’t include them. Plus, you know, they were just awesome. They just liked moving too much to get a non-blurry photo on my crappy camera. Nonetheless, awesome. Sometimes the photos aren’t what matters – it’s the actual experience that we cared about.