This post continues the retelling of my 2017 trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. The rest of this series is located in the Travel category of this blog.
Belize Zoo Take Two
I was up by 5 am on June 20, 2017. I was scheduled to meet with Jamal at 9, and did not want to be late. But that wasn’t the only thing on my mind that morning.
Once I was done at the Belize Zoo, I was planning to head to the town of San Ignacio. There was only one problem: I didn’t have a place to stay. Therefore I set aside a few moments during breakfast to look up the hostels Mike told me about. I ended up making a reservation at Bella’s Backpackers Cayo.
There were multiple tropical downpours that morning, so the walkways of the Tropical Education Center were under a few inches of water. It was at this point that I discovered that my boots, instead of keeping water out, absorbed as much of it as possible.
Fortunately, I was well compensated for my soggy feet. I spotted an agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) on the way back to my room, and a man named Carlos showed me a hummingbird nest that was close by. I could not admire it for long, however, because I was almost late for my ride to the zoo.
I made it to the Belize Zoo by 9, and found that Jamal was already there. He led me to the indoor cafe, where we discussed jaguars.
Jamal told me that the biggest threat to jaguars in Belize is habitat loss. When forests are cleared, it harms the cats in multiple ways. For one, it brings jaguars into closer contact with people. The loss of wild prey that accompanies deforestation also makes jaguars more likely to attack livestock. These factors increase direct persecution of jaguars and human-wildlife conflict.
Jamal and I also talked about the Belize Zoo’s ‘Problem’ Jaguar Rehabilitation Program. If a farmer is having trouble with a jaguar, they can trap the cat and donate it to the zoo. The Belize Zoo houses the jaguars away from visitors until they’re accustomed to being around people, and then the cats are used for educational purposes.
While the Problem Jaguar Program does remove jaguars from the wild, it gives farmers an alternative to killing the cats. I wondered aloud if choosing to spare jaguars might produce more positive attitudes towards the species, in line with social psychological theories.
Jamal then told me the story of a jaguar that was trapped on Mennonite lands. The community that caught the cat appears to have taken ownership of it, as school children have gone on field trips to see ‘their’ jaguar. While this one example hardly counts as definitive evidence, it’s certainly food for thought.
Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Jamal if he knew of any good thesis leads. His reply was that I should find an idea that I’m truly excited about, and then get back to him. I must say, at the moment I was hoping I could work with the Belize Zoo in some capacity.
Following my meeting with Jamal, I caught a bus to San Ignacio. Once I arrived in town, I had a difficult time finding Bella’s. Luckily I ran into a police woman, who politely showed me the way.
My first impression of Bella’s Backpackers was unfairly negative. In hindsight, that was because I still wasn’t used to city living. San Ignacio was the largest settlement I had stayed in for nearly a month, and I was overwhelmed.
Still, my afternoon wasn’t all bad. I had lunch with a pleasant couple from New Zealand, and the staff members at Bella’s were excellent company.
In addition, I believe June 20 was the night when I ran into a student from Humboldt State University. I was shocked to learn that another student from my small school in Northern California was staying at Bella’s. He was just passing through San Ignacio, while I planned to stay there for at least six days. I had business in the nearby capitol of Belmopan, but had been unable to find affordable housing there. As such, I intended to commute back and forth from San Ignacio.
Tomorrow would be my first day making that journey.