It has a relatively small collection, all Belizean animals which for one reason or another cannot be in the wild. They may have been sick, or were illegal pets. Some of the cats were trapped when they harassed wildlife and others were born in the zoo. All the animals have large enclosures and the signposting around the zoo is quirky and fun. The zoo puts a strong emphasis on education and has its own Tropical Education Center (TEC), across the road from the zoo where groups can stay and get involved in various projects. We met a Dutch Masters student who is doing field research on the prey animals of the jaguar, a Sonoma State student who is doing a summer internship at the zoo, a mature student from Portsmouth UK who is working as a zoo administrator for a few months, a girl scout group from the US (high schoolers) and a group of university students from the UK.
We chose to stay at the TEC overnight so we could participate in a nighttime tour of the zoo. I had done something kind of like this before in Singapore and knew that one of the great things about going to a zoo at night is that some 70% or more of the animals are nocturnal, which means when you see them in a typical zoo during the daytime, they are usually asleep. By coming at night you get to see the animals alert and in action. We actually had a private tour of the zoo, which was just the 3 of us and two of the zookeepers.
Starting in the snake house, we saw Fer-de-lance (this time thankfully behind glass!), rattlesnake, and a python which Aaron and I got to have around our necks. Then we spent about an hour wandering around the various enclosures and feeding the animals including tapir (the Belizean national animal), margay (pictured – the smallest of the spotted cats), ocelot, jaguar, howler monkeys, pacas, peccaries, coatamundis, puma, spectacled owls, and kinkajous. Lots of fun and educational. Aaron was thrilled that he got to touch the jaguar’s paw, which now means he had the chance to pet a number of big cats as he had close encounters with lions, cheetah and leopards in Africa.
As we finished up, we ended up back with the snakes and this time the rattlesnake was alert and angry – shaking this rattle and curled into a tight S shape ready to strike. Actually I thought this was kind of useful – if we ever run into a rattlesnake in the wilds of Texas we’ll know exactly what they sound like.
The cabin we had at the TEC was large with several beds, lots of space, a small kitchen and a bathroom. It kind of looked like the cabins you might find at a summer camp, which screened in windows and a porch set right above a swamp (which apparently has its own crocodiles, but we didn’t see them). Unfortunately a number of mosquitoes made it into the cabin and despite wearing DEET to bed, we each ended up with a few bites in the morning. Also, early in the morning the power went out, meaning the fans stopped working, so it started to get pretty warm. We decided to get up and going when the power stayed off, but unfortunately there was no water in the shower. Just as we finished getting changed, the power came on again. We later found out that when they have a power outage, the water pumps need to get reset, but no one had told us this.
After breakfast, we drove back to Belize City where we returned our car. The vehicle (and Crystal Car Rental) were great. Kelly says she is ready to do a commercial for Suzuki SUVs. The car rental folks drove us into town so we could board a bus for Chetumal, Mexico which is just over the border to the north of Belize and takes about 3 hours in a reasonably comfortable coach. When we got to the border, we paid the Belizean exit tax again and then went to Mexican immigration which took forever. Apparently they had recently put in new procedures, which requires some people who could previously just walk through immigration to now need to fill out paperwork. Futhermore when we arrived only one person was working, so we probably spent best part of 45 minutes getting through Mexican immigration.
Once we got to Chetumal we took a quick taxi ride to our hotel, the Holiday Inn. We needed to choose a 2nd taxi as the first one wanted twice the going rate – always know how much a cab ride should cost! We chose the Holiday Inn as we were only staying one night, it was centrally located and we got a good rate.
Across the street from the hotel was the excellent Museum of Mayan Culture. It has very few original pieces – most were reproductions, but did a great job of explaining Mayan architecture, customs and culture through the use of models and interactive computer systems.