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Nineteen Hour day is worth it!

July 24, 2012
roseate spoonbill

We saw this roseate spoonbill on the way to the Baboon Sanctuary.

Our day started bright and early at RDU (Raleigh-Durham Airport). Not content to let a moment go to waste, we immediately spotted a praying mantis on the window at the gate, which led to a discussion about Chinese versus Carolina mantids. A few hours later we arrived in Belize and were thrilled to be greeted by our longtime friend and guide, Nathan Forbes, and our two Belizean educators, Andre and Carlene. We set off down the road for the Baboon Sanctuary (the two hour time change meant we were in Belize well before lunchtime!).

The drive to the Sanctuary was rich with wildlife sightings, including  northern jacanas,  purple gallinules, vermillion flycatchers and our biggest excitement, a roseate spoonbill! Even Nathan was excited by the spoonbill sighting!

Tracie giving monkey leafKeeping our eyes on the jungle around us, we were lucky enough to spot a small troop of howler monkeys hanging out in a tree near the road. We watched for a few minutes and found it easy to spot the dominant male and the youngest juveniles. We learned that the Community Baboon Sanctuary was established to protect the howler monkeys by giving them forested corridors to move through, easy access to food plants, and protection from poaching.*

After a delicious lunch of rice and beans, Belizean chicken, fried plantains, potato salad, avocado, bananas and cookies, we met Robert with the Sanctuary. He shared the history of the project and the pride of his community. We set off into the bush to learn about traditional medicines, such as a cure for ringworm. He also demonstrated the “tattoo fern” which leaves a white tattoo of spores on your skin. We saw leaf cutter ants, fire ants and Africanized bees as well as many different kinds of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies.

tattoo fernWe visited the “School Troop” of monkeys and learned about their incredible booming voices when Robert imitated a call and got the dominant male to call back. A few people had the chance to hand the monkeys one of their favorite leaves.

Our time in the forest went quickly and soon it was back on the bus for the drive to DuPlooy’s lodge. We enjoyed learning about Belize from Carlene and Andre, and identifying some birds along the way.

A team meeting before dinner let each group report on its observations, and gave each person a chance to reflect on their experiences from the day. We met another group at the lodge—and found out they are from North Carolina too! Before we headed to the Dining Room for dinner we were mesmerized by a pair of kinkajous. After a wonderful meal we headed down to the river for a short night hike. Along the way we found a beautiful coffee snake. At the river’s edge we spotted what appeared to be  a pair of four-eyed opossums which look very different from our Virginia opossums. We also saw a large male iguana who appeared to be shedding.

We are thrilled to be in Belize and cannot believe what we have experienced since our arrival at RDU this morning. We have figured out that with the time change we were all there at the equivalent of 3am Belize time…. No wonder 10pm seems so very late at this point!

*In Belize, howler monkeys are called baboons.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Gavindra Bharrat permalink
    July 25, 2012 4:22 am

    The trip so far looks amazing. What is the temperature/climate in the area that you are all in? Because it seems low to see these organisms.

  2. Willow Hubbard- AP Earth and Environmental Science permalink
    July 25, 2012 10:43 am

    What types of conservation and preservation methods are in place in Belize? How much is the government involved in protecting the wildlife?

    • August 8, 2012 8:57 am

      Willow, the government is active in helping preserve the natural spaces and wildlife BUT like elsewhere their power only goes so far. The Belizean government is also suffering from budget cuts and as such there is less personnel to help maintain the spaces. A majority of the conservations have been put in place with local support, such as the baboon sanctuary (howler monkeys), which was established by local farmers.

      The preservation and conservation of the wildlife is based on education. Making sure that people are aware that their customs can work with protection. For example, the barn owl is thought to bring negative things so people often kill on site but in reality the owl is the greatest rodent catcher. So the push is to use education animals to show people not to be afraid.

  3. Meg's Class permalink
    July 25, 2012 12:42 pm

    Hi Meg!!! We are so excited to read about your experiences! You have already answered many of our questions in your first post with the spoonbill bird, what a beautiful bird!!!
    We have a few questions we are anxious to know. The kids want to know if you have seen a toucan or a jaguar yet. They are so excited to know of those findings. We are looking forward to following you through this blog. Have fun!
    Your class

    • July 26, 2012 9:41 pm

      Hello Meg’s Class!

      We have not seen a jaguar yet (except for one carved out of wood). But we have seen a collard aracari, which is a kind of Toucan. We are still looking for the Keel Billed Toucan (which is the big one that most people are familiar with) We’ve also seen a Roseate Spoonbill, Howler Monkeys, and a Tarantula!

      See you soon – Meg

  4. Courtney Price permalink
    July 25, 2012 7:06 pm

    Sounds amazing. I visited the CBS about 2 years ago and did a night hike with Robert – amazing!!! Enjoy every minute of it. ~ Court

  5. Tori Jones permalink
    July 26, 2012 7:14 pm

    It seems like you guys are having a great time. You mentioned a lot of different plant species I’ve never heard of. Is the biodiversity rate really high there? Are there laws that protect the different species?

  6. Joe Young - AP Earth and Environmental Science permalink
    August 1, 2012 6:37 am

    Has the exposure to the extensive amount of unfamiliar species increased your ambition to protect the environment now that you have had a first hand experience with the animals at risk? How do the local’s view on environmentalism differ from that of Americans?

    • August 8, 2012 9:03 am

      Joe, having the species in my face and the amazing amount of biodiversity was a reminder that we have to protect more than what we see everyday. I was a AMAZING to see the community involvement in protecting the natural spaces and species. Often times we hear about grassroots efforts being made but with a country as big as we are it often doesn’t have the desired effect whereas in Belize the grassroots efforts have been successful a lot of the time. There is still concern with increased industrialization, such as damming the Macal River, that needs to be addressed but it will take more than individuals to establish what is necessary.

  7. Emily Barnard--AP EES Duffer permalink
    August 4, 2012 3:45 pm

    Why did you guys go to Belize over other South American countries? Has Belize preserved more natural life than other countries? Is there a big tourism business to see natural life sightings in Belize? Can you find such an abundant amount of diverse species outside of the sanctuary?

    • lizbaird permalink
      August 6, 2012 12:12 pm

      Hi Emily
      The Museum has been offering this trip since 1987. Belize was chosen as the destination for a variety of reasons, some of which include it is English speaking, it is only a two hour flight from Miami, and it is similar to North Carolina with granite mountains with pine trees, a developed “Piedmont” type area, and a coast with islands and the “nurseries” for the sea (in Belize it is mangroves, in NC it is the salt marsh). These attributes make it easy for educators to see North Carolina connections to take back to their students.

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