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A three-day update!

July 27, 2015
Group at the Zoo with Sharon and Jamal and Rose the crocodile

Group at the Belize Zoo with Sharon and Jamal and Rose the crocodile

Tapirs, Jaguars, and Ocelots, Oh My!

Today we said good-bye to our western jungle lodge, duPlooys. We stuffed our gear and ourselves into our tour bus and headed to the much-anticipated Belize Zoo.

If you have not heard of the Belize Zoo, you are missing out. The infamous Sharon Matola started it 30 years ago. By local Belizeans she is better known as the “Zoo Lady.” The zoo had humble beginnings. Sharon was tasked with taking care of 17 animals left over after a documentary film wrapped up. From there she decided to use these animals to begin educating Belizeans about the incredible animal diversity within their own country. She worked tirelessly to dispel generations of fears and myths surrounding these beautiful animals. After reading “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw,” meeting Sharon felt like meeting a local celebrity. To say we felt inspired by her would be an understatement.

Upon arrival at the zoo we immediately began our intimate tour of the zoo with Sharon and Jamal. We were introduced to numerous Belizean animals. These encounters included;

  • Feeding Charlie the Scarlet Macaw
  • Asking Happy the Barn Owl if we could pet his nose, and he allowed us to do so!
  • Touching Rose the 3-year-old American Crocodile.
  • Feeding Indy the tapir
  • Admiring Queen and Panama the Harpy Eagles, Junior Buddy the Jaguar, Rhaburn the Ocelot, and many other animals.
Petting a tapir

Petting a tapir

As we said our goodbyes we all vowed to return to the zoo someday. We made our way to the Belmopan market for a “What’s this food?” scavenger hunt. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan, though. Our tour bus needed a tire, so this gave us extra time to explore the market for its fascinating foods and its wonderful entertainment. This included a local children’s group steel drum performance. While we enjoyed this extra time we unfortunately had to forgo our visit to the Blue Hole National Park. We continued our travels southeast across the mountains on the Hummingbird Highway, the most scenic road in Belize. We were soon driving out of the mountains and back into the coastal savannahs on our way to the village of Maya Center and the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. The preserve was created in 1984 by the Belize government as a means to protect the dwindling jaguar population. Before going to bed we took an excursion into the jungle to set up our cameras and to look for Red-eyed Tree Frogs, which we found plenty of. We settled into our accommodations and fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle.

Liz and Sherry with tree frog

Liz and Sherry with tree frog

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Red-eyed Tree Frog

Dragon-headed Bug

Dragon-headed Bug

July 25, 2015

Our first night made us well aware that living in the Jaguar Preserve is not for the faint of heart. The tropical jungle and the simple accommodations gave all of us a quick snapshot of a field biologist’s life of research.

With much anticipation we traveled out of the preserve and on our way down the Southern Highway to Monkey River. The Educators of Excellence participants and the Museum have visited this school for many years now. We were welcomed to with open arms and big grins.

The kids were split into four groups of students, ages 2-14. We quickly went into “teacher-mode” and got started with our lessons right away. The engagement and enthusiasm was easily noticed by the buzz and hum of learning occurring all throughout the school. Activities included leaf studies, microscope investigations, water-cycle games, and watercolor animals. Upon completion of our visit we sang a traditional songs from our countries together, took photos, and said our good-byes.

Group at Monkey River

Group at Monkey River

Jennifer at Monkey River

Jennifer at Monkey River

Fred at Monkey River

Fred at Monkey River

Doreen at Monkey River

Doreen at Monkey River

Blair at Monkey River

Blair at Monkey River

We made our way to Clives where we enjoyed lunch, loaded the boat to go back across Monkey River, hopped on our bus and headed to the Mayan Center.

At the center we met with Julio, a community leader who owns, Che’il, the Mayan chocolate shop. We had ourselves a nice chocolate making session and then sampled the fruits of our labor. Our night ended with a traditional Mayan meal and a telling of the Mayan’s involvement with the Jaguar Preserve.

Terry Making chocolate

Terry making chocolate

July 26, 2015

Today was our last day in the jungle. While some of us wanted to stay, many were ready to leave the heat and humidity for ocean breezes. Our last venture into the jungle was a 3-kilometer hike to a waterfall. After a couple of days with no swimming (and lots of sweating), we were excited to jump into the cool water and stand under a pounding waterfall. For a few of us, it was the first time we had felt cold all week! As we soaked in a pool below the waterfall we watched a large hummingbird — a White-necked Jacobin — fly toward the spray, seeming to catch drops of water to drink.

After a final stop to pick up chocolate at the Mayan Center, we traveled to the coast, where we were greeted with sand, wind, and blue water. We boarded a boat for a 45-minute trip out to Southwater Caye — our final stop. The Caye is absolutely beautiful: covered in white coral sand, shaded by swaying coconut palms, and surrounding by turquoise blue water. We began our exploration of the underwater world on a quick afternoon snorkeling trip. For many, it was a new experience, but everyone enjoyed watching the colorful fish and waving sea fan coral. Other snorkeling highlights included watching spiny lobster hide under a large piece of coral, a bright orange starfish, and a stingray leaping out of the waves.

We are looking forward to exploring more of the diverse sea life on Belize’s coral reef — the second-largest reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

Waiting for Sunrise on the Caye

Waiting for sunrise on the caye

The Jungle

I had never visited the jungle before.

OK, maybe once, long ago,

And long forgotten.

I was afraid,

Of the bugs,

Of the thickness

And the unknown.

But I found that it was familiar,

Soothing, even


For the jungle was no different than the wilderness

I seek

Closer to home.

It holds the same life—

Rich, though hidden.

The same vastness—


And witnessed in the incredible diversity.

And the same sense of the sacred—

A place as it once was;

As it should be.

I no longer fear the jungle.


I hold it in high regard

(as, perhaps, I always have)

But I also have found it to be


12 Comments leave one →
  1. Grace Byfield permalink
    July 27, 2015 11:26 am

    Doreen, the STEM camp participants at St. Augustine’s University would like to know how does one hold a 3 yr old American crocodile. They also want to know how you did with the snorkeling. Keep having fun!

    • lizbaird permalink
      July 27, 2015 5:58 pm

      You hold a three year old American Crocodile like a baby!
      I did GREAT with my first time snorkeling, and managed the equipment and the swimming and did not take in any water, and observed the reef and the beautiful fish. Some of the fish I have observed are the Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Squirrelfish, just to name a few. From Doreen

  2. July 27, 2015 1:11 pm

    Oh my……actually meeting and having Sharon Matola, the Zoo Lady, as a guide. Are there any animals from her original collection still there? Is the American crocodile native or imported to Belize? When? There was no by-line with the lovely poetry. Was it a group effort or attributed to one person? The words evoked visual memories and had special reminders as I follow your journey.

    • lizbaird permalink
      July 27, 2015 6:02 pm

      Sharon Matola was part of the group that initially planned the Educators of Excellence Institute in Belize so she has a special fondness for this group. We brought several things for the care of the animals, such as flaxseed oil, A&D ointment and duct tape. These things can be expensive and difficult to find in Belize. We can’t think of any animals form the original collection that are still there.

      the Crocodiles are native to Belize and our group has had a chance to see Rose each year.

      The posts are a team effort – we should go back and put the team names by each one! Thee poetry was written by Melissa Dowland, a staff member who joined the trip at the last minute when a teacher had to drop out a few days before we left.

  3. July 27, 2015 1:22 pm

    I am so jealous you got to hold the Crocodile! Have fun on the island. It’s amazing!

    • lizbaird permalink
      July 27, 2015 6:04 pm

      Rose is getting SO BIG!

  4. Tammy D Lee permalink
    July 27, 2015 2:19 pm

    The Jaquar Perserve was such a winderful place to visit– but I rememberedbeing so happy to be at the coast.. Keep having fun participants especially you Blair Driver!! Can’t wait to hear all about it!!

    • lizbaird permalink
      July 27, 2015 6:04 pm

      Blair is too busy having fun to reply 🙂

  5. Unah Cryan permalink
    July 28, 2015 6:42 am

    It was so cool that you guys found a dragon headed bug on this trip! Did you get your foreheads licked again at the zoo? At US, there was someone who jumped the fence just to pat a lion. Some people would do anything to touch big cats! I snuggle with our polydactyl cat at home instead.

    It’s so fun reading about your trip and experience rich education opportunities through this blog. Wish I can go with you.

    North Carolina is staying hot while you are gone. Have fun and post more photos if you can!

    • lizbaird permalink
      July 28, 2015 6:56 am

      Jason says “Squeeze the polydactyl for us and we will be home soon!”

  6. meganchesser permalink
    July 29, 2015 8:01 am

    What did the tapir feel like?

    • lizbaird permalink
      August 4, 2015 10:22 am

      The Central American (or Baird’s) Tapir feels much like a horse, with short stiff hairs over a very muscular body. We enjoyed feeding Indy carrots and other vegetables!

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