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Moments at the Zoo

July 28, 2014

Bernadette and boa constrictor

Nathan and Bernadette meet Balboa.

Travel has a way of stretching the mind.  The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable, myriad new sights, smells, and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” – Ralph Crawshaw

The above quote was shared with us as we bid a bittersweet farewell to DuPlooy’s to continue on to our next adventure.  It resonated with us because we knew the experiences we’ve had so far, and that were still to come, would help to change our view of the world around us.

We traveled east along the Western Highway to the Belize Zoo for our much-anticipated visit.  “Balboa” the boa warmly greeted us with “big hugs” as we entered the zoo.  Prior to our trip we were introduced to Sharon Matola, “the zoo-lady”, through Bruce Barcott’s, The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw. If you didn’t know Sharon’s story, her humble and unassuming presence might lead you to believe she’s just another zoo-keeper. But to many Belizeans she is a local hero for saving abandoned animals and creating a zoo filled with animal ambassadors.  Sharon casually approached our group with a bucket-full of carrots and genuine smile.  The zoo is a must-see destination for locals and tourists alike to learn about the native animals of Belize.

Our zoo visit was filled with many personal up-close encounters.  Sharon immediately put us to work, allowing us to feed the endangered tapirs, locally known as “mountain cows”.  Next, we unexpectedly found ourselves feeding a Scarlet Macaw, an animal close to Sharon’s heart.  This amazing opportunity paired with having read about her efforts to save this beautiful bird brought Barcott’s book to life for us.

The highlight of the zoo tour was meeting “Junior Buddy”, a seven-year old rescued jaguar.  Sharon’s previous circus training became obvious as she expertly coached him through various commands by using her positive reinforcement and motherly voice.  Next, we found ourselves within a cage reversing roles with Junior Buddy.  In our cage we were able to pet, feed, and get jaguar kisses from this magnificent cat.

In addition to those experiences we saw a King Vulture, Spider Monkeys, Harpy Eagles, Brown Pelicans, three types of parrots, and much more.  For many of us it was a powerful experience to see Sharon in her element, interacting with her adopted family.  Her humble and genuine presence has captured our hearts forever.

Leaving a piece of our hearts at the zoo, we took a quick dip in The Blue Hole National Park.  There we kept up with Institute tradition and performed a synchronized water ballet.

We ended our day by travelling along the most scenic highway in Belize, the Hummingbird Highway to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.  There we were welcomed to our rustic living quarters by tarantulas, scorpions, and a coral snake. We found Red-eyed Tree Frogs during our walk along the road at night.

While many of us were nervous about the critters we’d meet in the jungle, it was clear from today that Belize truly values every animal native to its land.  Today’s events can be summed up by a quote posted throughout the zoo:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Ghandi

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott Zimmerman permalink
    July 28, 2014 8:27 pm

    Lori must be finding her element at the reef! More pictures please…

  2. Lori Zimmerman permalink
    July 28, 2014 9:44 pm

    Hi Honey – it’s me! Night snorkel sooo much fun. Miss you all! Having a blast – what an outstanding experience! see you all soon.

    • Scott Zimmerman permalink
      July 29, 2014 7:44 am

      We’re all so “jealous”, but thrilled that you are having this experience. Can’t wait to hear all of the stories!!!

  3. Unah permalink
    July 29, 2014 5:21 am

    I thought I was going to see picture of Jason being licked by a jaguar. Do you have that photo?

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