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From the Zoo to the jungle

July 30, 2017

Kelly and Tapir


Melanie and the Tapir


Panama the Harpy Eagle


Magic the Barn Owl


Taylor holding a boa


Beth holding a boa


Drew being a shade tree for Beth

Adjusting to life in Belize was easy at duPlooy’s. Even without consistent power, no air conditioning, television, or wifi, it felt like a home away from home and a little slice of paradise. As we got ready to leave, we were sent off by a troop of about seven toucans feeding at the fresh fruit feeder and flying from tree to tree. After saying goodbye to Judy, we got on the bus and began the next leg of our trek. Liz prepped us for the Jaguar Preserve where we would have no hot water and electricity is provided by a generator that shuts off at 9pm each night.

Our first stop was the Belize Zoo run by Sharon Matoloa, an American known locally as “The Zoo Lady.” Many of us knew about Sharon after reading about her quest to stop the Chalillo Dam from being built on the Macal River to save the beautiful scarlet Macaws. The excitement filled the van as we talked about what we might see and do as Liz told us each trip over the past 30 years has been unique.

As we walked through the entrance way, we saw one of the zoo workers handling a coffee snake and another allowing visitors to hold a boa constrictor around their neck. A few of us had our first experience handling a snake, bringing even more firsts to this trip. Although Sharon is an American, her heart is in Belize. She employs only Belizians and is proud to say that the Belize Zoo is the only nature destination in the country that is 100% accessible by wheelchair and stroller. Over ten thousand school children visit the zoo each year. Noelle, one of our Belizian educators on the trip, informed us that the Belize Zoo is the only location her school allows for field trips.

After being greeted by Sharon, we were given  VIP treatment as she took us personally through the zoo and into some of the habitats. The tour started with the king vulture, which we saw in the wild at Xunantunich the previous day. After educating us about the unique (disgusting) eating habits of the animal, she also informed us that they can see something the size of your fist from two miles away. It was incredible to see the bird close up. Next we visited Indy the tapir, the national animal of Belize and very rare in the wild. Sharon allowed us to enter Indy’s habitat and feed him leaves by hand while we scratched him under the chin.

After viewing and feeding the spider monkeys, incredible creatures with human-like characteristics, we next visited many other animals including the scarlet macaw, George. Sharon allowed us go in with this breathtaking bird with a beak so strong it can crack a Brazil nut. Sharon also gave us backstage passes to personally meet Panama the harpy eagle and Rosie the crocodile, star of the book “This Croc Rocks,” which we all received a signed copy of at the end of the visit.

Perhaps the most incredible part of the visit was getting up close to Junior Buddy and Rocky the jaguars. Sharon has about seven jaguars enclosed, but there are another 17 in rehab at the zoo. She has an agreement with the Belizian government where any problem jaguar is brought to her rather than being killed. Every jaguar in the zoo has been brought to her because of this reason. Many have been sent to zoos in the states including the Philadelphia zoo to help with breeding after they have been rehabbed. Sharon continuously commented on the beauty of nature and inspired us by saying “nature is perfect in every way” and that the purpose of the zoo was to help children “fall in love with what is theirs” referencing the beauty of nature in Belize.

We ate lunch then left the zoo to head towards Belmopan. At the market we were each tasked with finding one fruit or vegetable that we had never seen before. We then journeyed to Cockscomb where we admired the change in scenery as the mountains took the shape of the sleeping giant covered with tropical plants. After driving down the bumpy road, we reached our accommodations and realized we truly weren’t in NC anymore.

After dinner, Nathan and Jason led us on a night walk to take in the new scenery and hopefully find some red eyed tree frogs that breed during this time over a local pond. A few of us were given UV flashlights to find scorpions which glow. We saw tarantulas, a kinkajou, a small snake that may have been a coffee snake, cat eyed snake, and, finally, red eyed tree frogs and their eggs. As Jason showed us this beautiful amphibian, it hopped out of his hand and hopped and crawled from person to person in the group. We turned our headlamps and flashlights off for a few moments in so we could listen to the sounds of the rainforest as the song of the tree frog became synchronized. When we finally ended our long day, we felt as though we were already dreaming after having so many fascinating encounters with creatures that many of us had never even seen or heard of.

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