Exciting Tour Guide Training

With endorsement provided by the Belize Tourism Board, a very special workshop occurred recently at the Zoo. TBZ Education Director, Jamal Andrewin, took the lead role to provide a dynamic session for 25 licensed tour guides.

Participants learned more about raptor adaptations by dressing up as a Harpy Eagle!  With big wings and huge talons, all could appreciate the “animal adaptation” portion of the day.   A common question from tourists, “What do these huge birds of prey eat in the wild?”  After the Harpy Eagle session, these eager-to-learn men and women now know the answer …. Coatimundi!

Jamal made sure that part of his lesson plan included the role which our natural resources play in the country’s history, culture and economy.  Tour guides sharing this information with visitors will contribute to their guest’s perceptions about the unique profile of our nation.

Handsome black Jaguar, “Lucky Boy” was very happy to meet his tour guide visitors.   And while he stood there in his big cat majesty, it was explained why it is that “Lucky Boy” is so much larger than our “home grown Belize jaguars” at the zoo…His ancestry is South American.   In that part of a Jaguar’s  geographical range, they are over twice as large as the jaguars roaming in Central America.

A highlight, too was the section, “Meet and Greet the Misunderstood”.  Zoo Director Sharon Matola shared with all, famous and fantastic, barn owl, “Happy the Owl”.   The myth attached to our barn owls, that they are the “bird of evil and misery” was known by every participant in the workshop .  “Happy” unraveled this barn owl myth to zero, and the guides were reminded all that these beautiful birds eat more rice and rats than any other animal on the planet!
To the delight of all, “Rose” the American  crocodile, also made an appearance.  She was photographed and stroked, and left behind a positive impression for her tour guide friends.  Too often crocodiles are persecuted in Belize.  However, like all animals, they serve an important purpose and have a role to play in our Belizean ecology.

Snakes and their biology were discussed.   And of course, all had the opportunity to hold Bal Boa, the resident boa constrictor at the zoo.   “Rocky”, a big Jaguar who once fed himself by preying upon cattle, is a star graduate of the zoo’s “Problem Jaguar Rehabilitation Program”.  Everyone had the fun opportunity to get inches away from this big fellow.

The day was full of exciting education, and was, indeed, a special day of training for everyone involved!



News from Sharon and Jamal!

After two years of fund-raising and design work and then actual on-the-ground work, the zoo is now 100 percent accessible.  The rose-coloured pathways no longer stop and go, they simply GO!   And lots of happy moments are to be had for anyone with diverse abilities.  Some of the zoo animals come close up to see their wheelchair visitors.  Not used to seeing kids or adults in “moving chairs," the animal curiosity is also fun to observe.

Our help has come from various sincere and kind sources.  No words can fully serve to sufficiently thank the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland, who not only raised funds for this important project, but then their students and instructor all came to Belize to assist in building the pathways.  Pathway construction supervisor, Mr. Max was skeptical seeing his young female assistants come on board.  However, he quickly changed his initial “first opinion” when these young ladies eagerly pushed wheelbarrows and shoveled cement, day after day!  “Girl power” to the max, Mr. Max!

Local business contributions also assisted our efforts.  As did a superb gift from Mr. Peter Hughes and his colleagues at the British High Commission.  Our area representative,  Hon. Dolores Balderamos,  kindly made a contribution to show her support of this work.   Last December, while still not fully finished, the Belize Assembly for People with Diverse Abilities (BAPDA) came to the zoo to celebrate World Disabilities Day.  Smiling kids in wheelchairs glided down the pathways and saw our jaguars and toucans.  “Rose” the crocodile made an appearance to add to the magic of the celebration, while officials from BAPDA excitedly spoke about returning  so that all could experience the fun and excitement  again.

Each week, our zoo crew sees more and more wheelchair using visitors.  And visitors who do the “walk about” frequently comment on the pathways, too.  “It’s fun to walk on," - we often hear that statement.  Due to the pathway construction technique, perfected by long-term zoo employee, Tony Garel, the air and gravel mixture with just the right amount of cement, provides a bit of a “cushion” for all of our zoo visitors.  And for parents with strollers, a zoo visit is an easy visit, and a delight for stroller-passengers, too.

At this time, The Belize Zoo is the only nature destination in Belize
which is accessible.  We are proud and happy about this accomplishment!   Good Zoo?  We have always been a very good zoo.  However, now we truly are, “The Best Little Zoo in the World."


National Tapir Day and Fuego’s Fabulous First!

From Jamal . . .

National Tapir Day has truly become the greatest event on the Zoo’s calendar. Every April the Zoo crew is in a high energy state preparing to host students, teachers and special friends from different parts of Belize to celebrate our beloved national animal, the ”Mountain Cow.” April 27th is officially Tapir Day worldwide, and, even though festivities were a little late at the Zoo this year, the excitement and fun was greater than ever!

The passing of April the Tapir last November was met with an outpouring of condolences and fond memories shared from thousands of fans all over the country, and the world! After 30 years as Belize’s most famous “animal ambassador,”April will never be forgotten, and her legacy is now carried on by a wonderful young tapir named “Fuego.”

Fuego was brought to the Zoo in May 2013 after being separated from his mom in a forest fire. Little orphaned Fuego grew up quickly, and showed a tapir tenderness that made him a perfect “meet and greet” animal for Zoo visitors. As luck would have it, Fuego was also born in April, like his famous predecessor. It was obvious to all that he should take up the mantle as chief tapir in Tapir Town.

Word was sent out about preparations to celebrate Fuego’s first birthday, and over 250 party guests showed up to help us celebrate such a special day. Schools from BeIize City in the East, to Benque Viejo in the West, way down to Toledo in the south were all in attendance for Fuego’s fiesta. Panerrifix Steel Band from Belmopan added musical melody to the day, and TBZ Director Sharon Matola lead the entire crowd in an enthusiastic sing-along of the “Mountain Cow song.”

Students were kept busy with refreshments and clever tapir games, while, group by group, guests got a chance to meet the birthday boy in person while he munched away on his birthday cake made of all the things young, growing tapirs love to eat!

TBZ thanks all our wonderful guests that made National Tapir Day extra special this year. We look forward to another 30 years of magical mountain cow events like these.



From Sharon...

In its second year of development, the beautiful accessible pathway which winds its way throughout The Best Little Zoo in the world, STILL is not fully complete.  The project is a costly one.  Although funds were raised both in Belize and from foreign donors, more were needed to see the work go forward into a final and happy finished phase.

Pathway Event - March 2014
The month of March has proven to be a magical month for Belize Zoo pathway progress.  First off, a request for funding help which was submitted to the British High Commission, received a thumbs up!  These good folks see the imperative need to have the zoo be accessible for all.  They share our vision that the beauty of the zoo and its great character will have an everlasting place in Belizean society as a caring and forward-thinking institution.  Wheelchairs, walkers, canes and strollers can easily travel the rose-coloured zoo pathway.  Presently, the zoo is the only nature destination in Belize which is accessible, and we hope that this is a trend which will grow to other destinations in our country.

Then, our long-standing friends from SUNY Cortland, in New York, arrived to actually do the manual labour required to expand the pathway!  Nine students, under the competent direction of Professor Vicki Wilkins, took the hot weather in stride, as they pushed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of stone chips to the pathway site.  Except for one lone male, the SUNY Cortland pathway crew was a crew of young women who had tons of determination and enthusiasm.  Would the portion of the pathway targeted for completion really happen?  The time schedule was brutal.  They had four days before a small event would happen, announcing the new portion of the zoo which was now (hopefully) accessible.

Accessible Walkway Gets a Big Boost
Thanks to their hard work and determination, yes!  The deadline was met.  The SUNY Cortland group had also spent time fund-raising for this good effort before arriving to Belize.  Their generous contribution, along with that of the British High Commission, will nearly see the entire pathway become a “done deal”.  But more happy surprises were to be had.  Our area representative, Hon. Dolores Balderamos, came to attend the ceremony.  She noted that the zoo was consistent in including the children from neighboring La Democracia and Mahogany Heights in its many programs and activities.  She strongly believes in the need for the zoo to become fully accessible to ALL Belizeans.  In the not-so-distant past, Ms. Dolores provided funding support to see that our accessible washroom could be built.  It was, and is often used by those with diverse abilities.  On this day of celebration, Ms. Dolores presented a check which will assist in the final stages of the development of our much-needed, much-appreciated accessible pathway.

Also present at the ceremony were key members of the Belize Assembly for People with Diverse Abilities, BAPDA.  Ms. Eve Middleton provided all with an overview of the difficulties which those who have various disabilities face on a daily basis here in our country.  She applauded the efforts The Belize Zoo has made to provide a place of fun and recreation for those people who so need an out-of-doors destination to enjoy with friends and family.

The Belize Zoo thanks SUNY Cortland, The British High Commission, Hon. Dolores Balderamos, BAPDA, and our good friends, LOVE FM, for continued support, encouragement and fine friendship.  



A Magnificent Celebration on International Disability Day

News from Jamal and Sharon...

Joy and excitement rang through the air recently at The Belize Zoo, as we held a special celebration to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities.   

BAPDA at The Belize Zoo
The Belize Assembly for Persons with Diverse Abilities, BAPDA,  had inquired about celebrating this important day at the Zoo.  BAPDA manager, Eva Middleton, organized the early December visit.  She had been following the Zoo’s progress over the past year, as we have diligently been working to see that this superb facility become accessible to all Belizeans.  Rose-coloured pathways, which are wheelchair and stroller friendly, wind their way past jaguars and tapirs, toucans and monkeys.  The Best Little Zoo in the World can be enjoyed by everyone now in Belizean society.

Ms. Middleton said that the Zoo was perfectly aligned with the theme for 2013:  “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”   It had been over twenty-five years since Eva Middleton last passed through the zoo.  She was joyfully astounded.  “Before I lost my leg, I could go into the rain forest.  Today, I felt like I was back in the forest again.” 

A group of about fifty guests from BAPDA and Stella Maris School joined educators Jamal Andrewin and Johanna Pacheco on an exciting Zoo highlights tour. “Lucky Boy” the black jaguar and jaguar ambassador “Junior Buddy” seemed to know that this was a special day.  They wasted no time coming up to greet their guests, and their guests were visibly thrilled.  Everyone had the opportunity to enjoy close up meetings with our national animal, the Central American tapir, and our beautiful national bird, the keel-billed toucan!

BAPDA Guests Meeting Rose the Croc
The excitement did not end with a zoo tour.  As the group gathered at the front of the Zoo for refreshments, Zoo Director Sharon Matola joined Jamal Andrewin to make a special presentation for the group.  A new colouring book, THE ABC’S OF WILD AND WONDERFUL BELIZE, was given to all of our special guests.  Having received support from the State University of New York  at Cortland (SUNY Cortland), SUNY Cortland’s, Inclusive Recreation Resource Center, this activity oriented colouring book, dedicated to children with disabilities, is the Zoo’s newest and proud resource.  Students and professors from SUNY Cortland will be assisting the Zoo in raising much-needed funds to fully finish the accessible walkway.  We are currently 80 percent complete, and look forward to seeing the entire Zoo accessible!

Being so special, the colouring book deserved a special intro! Providing that moment of exciting introduction was a job for a zoo ambassador.  “Rose” the crocodile took on the task with reptilian delight.  As the books were passed out, “Rose” assisted with photo and petting opportunities, adding an element of learning and surprise which was unexpected by all.

Past president of BAPDA, Jerome Flores, who was the Zoo’s expert consultant on the accessible walkway, joined current BAPDA president, Marshall Nunez and manager Eva Middleton, as kind and heartfelt thanks were given.  No one wanted to leave!  The Belize Zoo looks forward to more visits from BAPDA folks, Stella Maris children, and to all with disabilities.  Transforming our beautiful animal sanctuary into an accessible destination, has added a big and shining star to the profile of The Best Little Zoo in the World. 


Lucky Boy Featured on Romantic Travel Belize Site

Romantic Travel Belize has done a special feature on one of our favorite big cats, TBZ's Lucky Boy! Check it out at the following line: Lucky Boy's Story.

It is a terrific feature chronicling an amazing journey and arrival at a place Lucky Boy now calls home.



From Sharon . . .

A very important member of The Belize Zoo family passed away very late on Halloween night. April the tapir, who was the oldest living female tapir in captivity, died peacefully in her sleep.  And while all at the zoo mourn her loss, we are focusing our attention on celebrating her life and what she meant to Belize, and to many people living outside our borders.

April arrived to the original zoo, one mile from the present location, in April 1983.  A hunter found her lying in the Sibun River, unable to move.  He brought her to the little beginning zoo.   The small backyard menagerie was just three months old, and so was the young mountain cow.  Christened “April” by the self-appointed zoo director, Sharon Matola, a hard task was at hand.  “April” was in critical condition due to being heavily infested by the notorious screw worm parasite.  Now eradicated from Belize, screw worm was known to kill species of wildlife as well as livestock.  “April” was yet another victim. 

Intensive tender-loving care was provided.  Sharon and “April” became roommates.  Receiving medication and nourishing banana milkshakes infused with vitamins, the baby tapir slowly progressed and improved.  She would live!  Word got out that a young tapir was at the little zoo.  People would wander in to see her.  Back then, what made an impression on “April’s” adopted mom, Sharon, was the lack of understanding which prevailed about the National Animal of Belize.  Constantly, she would hear people say that tapirs were dangerous animals. “They can skin you alive with their flexible nose”.  Sharon and “April” began working together to change the misunderstandings about these special, gentle, plant-eating mammals.  Our National Animal!

Sharon was committed to turning “April” into a star ambassador for her species, which is an Endangered species, too.  Her first birthday party happened when she was two years old.  Six children attended.  Every year, this effort continued, and every year the party got bigger, and bigger….posters were created applauding our National Animal.  School children began visiting more regularly, “April” became a major attraction at the zoo.  A mountain cow you can pet!  And feeding “April” bananas was so very exciting to countless kids. 

Years passed, her popularity grew.  And when “April” turned sweet sixteen, her birthday party was covered on CNN news!   She met royalty and movie stars, and she herself starred in documentary wildlife films produced by Richard and Carol Foster.  She was famous both in Belize and beyond our borders. 

Today in Belize, people no longer attach false myths to our country’s tapirs.  These rare animals are viewed as beloved Belizeans.  The important role they play in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, is understood throughout the nation.  One animal, “April” the tapir, provided the springboard for a vital environmental awareness.  Her seven tapir “buds” currently living at the zoo will continue to see that the messages she brought into light, thirty years ago, will continue on with zest.  We will miss you, “April”.  Thank you for all you did on behalf of one of the most special animals on earth:  the Central American tapir.  



From Sharon and Jamal . . .

While our accessible pathway is not yet complete, the attractive pink avenue which presently winds around a good portion of the Zoo, has provided a wonderful recreation area for those who are challenged by disabilities.   Over a year ago, our staff all agreed that it just was not fair to have some of the most stunning wildlife in the world, only viewable by those who can walk easily around the Zoo.   How about our Belizean adults and children who spend each and everyday in a wheelchair?   Or the elderly who would adore sharing the animals of Belize with their grandchildren, but just could not consider a fun day out simply due to the challenges of walking the zoo pathways?  All of these Belizean folks should be able to scratch the nose of a mountain cow, or get mere inches away from Lucky Boy, our gorgeous black jaguar.

In order to make The Belize Zoo accessible, a major development scheme had to be put into place.  Fortunately, our zoo has had the strong support and encouragement from the State University of New York, (SUNY) Cortland, to assist with our efforts.  There are academic formal programs, based at SUNY Cortland’s Inclusive Recreation Resource Center (IRRC), which focus upon the resource needs for those challenged by various disabilities.  Students from these programs, led by their expert instructors in the art of accessibility, have spent time at the Zoo and assisted in seeing that we are a friendly destination for those folks with physical disabilities.

The dream is not yet complete. Our pink pathway must be in place around the entire Zoo, and while funding has stalled the progress, the plans are still “on the boards”.   We plan to have an accessible picnic area outside of the zoo, and of course, with a suitable restroom facility, too.  A pathway there will go from this area-of-chill-out, directly into The Belize Zoo.

Our superb colleagues based in SUNY Cortland, joined by TBZ Environmental Educator, Jamal Andrewin, will be aggressively working together to secure funds which will work to see that the dream of The Belize Zoo becoming completely accessible to all is realized.  This coming December, we will be hosting a day at the zoo for members of B.A.P.D.A, the Belize Assembly for People with Diverse Abilities.  And all Belizeans with physical challenges facing them in their world, will be invited to join in on what promises to be, a most memorable day of fun.

The Best Little Zoo in the World, thanks to our Zoo Friends both here and abroad, is simply becoming better and better.



Big Paws UP to Belize Zoo Staff!

From Sharon . . . 
Paws UP to Belize Zoo Staff!!!

After working long and hard on the day of our 32nd Belizean Independence, Zoo staff Tony Garel, Francesco Chock and George Choc were headed home.  The zoo was closed for visits on the 21st of September.  However, our special animals are unaware of these important celebrations.   They still need fresh water and dinner, no matter what the day.   You can bet that  jaguar Junior Buddy, Panama the harpy eagle and Brutus the crocodile, are totally clueless about national holidays!

Driving west on the George Price Highway in the vicinity of Cotton Tree, the zoo crew saw a red pick up truck which had run off the road.  It was full of young students.  For a moment, they all thought a minor vehicle problem caused the road detour.  But stopping to check, they saw that the girls in the back of the truck were crying.  Tony Garel, who is the Animal Supervisor at the zoo, noted that no other vehicle stopped to investigate.  To his surprise, one vehicle which did stop, chose not to render assistance. 

And assistance was urgently needed.  Two of the young students were unconscious.  Immediate medical attention was required.   Fortunately, Tony Garel has a firm background in first aid.   With his guidance and firm advice, George and Francisco kept the girls as calm as possible.   Close friends and family members were given a ride along with the girls in need of medical care.   Off they went to the hospital in Belmopan.  The emergency team there reported that their symptoms reflected heat stroke.  Indeed, earlier that day, the entire student squad had been marching in the sun in Belmopan as part of our September Independence celebrations.  How serious is heat stroke?   A medical professional was consulted.  She reported that heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, causes a dangerous lowering of blood pressure, which can lead to systemic shock and organ failure.  In some cases, people affected with heat stroke die. 

Fortunately for the students, the competent and heroic attention given by the staff at The Belize Zoo, and further assistance received from the medical staff at the Belmopan hospital, saw that their Independence Day had a happy ending.  They were kept in the hospital for three hours, and then  discharged.   The incident reflects the caring and responsible principles which are part of the everyday working agenda at The Best Little Zoo in the World.  We care about the animals of Belize.  And that includes our two- legged Belizean species, as well!

Black Jaguar “Lucky Boy” joins the entire zoo staff in giving a well-deserved bigger-than-big PAWS UP to Tony, Francisco and George.  They are true heroes for providing important assistance to the students in need of urgent help on our 32nd anniversary of Belizean Independence.



From Sharon . . . 

Our entire staff was all smiles when we recently learned that The Belize Zoo received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for the year 2013.  TripAdvisor, known throughout the world, is often called the “guru of trip advice”.   We charted a 4 ½ star rating out of a possible 5 star award!  TripAdvisor interpretation of this puts The Belize Zoo among the top ten percent of attractions worldwide.
Proud?  Sure we are.  And we are committed to living up to this superb designation.   Our noted accomplishments include becoming an accessible destination in Belize.   Belizeans with disabilities now have the opportunity to visit “The Best Little Zoo in the World”, as our upgraded pathways are very “wheelchair and walker friendly”.  Moms with strollers appreciate our easy-access walkways, too.  By Christmas, we are expecting to see the entire zoo accessible. 

Sometimes, the upgrades and changes at the zoo are not readily noticed by our visitors.  We are currently working on an exciting  “mountain cow strategy”,  which will see a new addition to popular “Tapir Town”……Watch out for the soon-to-be-on-zoo grounds, the one and only “Fuego the tapir”.    “Fuego”  was rescued in the height of the dry season, when horrific fires were burning throughout the west of the country.   Arriving as a baby to The Belize Zoo, he has been cared for and coddled by our zoo staff over the months.    When “Fuego” makes his debut to “Tapir Town”, his people-loving nature will bring many smiles to all. 

For the past few weeks, zoo staff have been working  on the introduction of our beautiful ornate hawk eagles.   They have lived side-by-side, but not together, for over three years.   Animal introductions should be done gradually, allowing them to accept each other into their home territories.   And are they now a happy hawk-eagle couple?    Delightfully so!  Seeing these beautiful large raptors side-by-side,  is a joy.

And who can leave the zoo not feeling happy after spending time viewing famous and gorgeous “Lucky Boy , our black jaguar?  Once shy and reserved, “Lucky Boy” now seems to enjoy the admiring looks from his visitors, and thrills all with his “stalking behavior”.

“Brutus” our 12 foot American crocodile, never fails to bring about a gasp from his visitors.  “Brutus” has a kind nature, but his massive profile doesn’t usually lead to visitors feeling warm and cuddly towards the fellow.   So!  We are fortunate to have “Rose” the American croc, ready to meet and greet people at the front of the zoo.  Holding her and understanding the special profile of this species of reptile is a memorable experience.  “Rose” the croc is an excellent Ambassador for her fellow American crocodiles out there in the Belizean wild.

All of these exciting “critter-happenings”, and more,  stand behind our latest honoured designation from TripAdvisor.   All at the zoo are so very proud and happy,  and we look forward to continuing on as “The Best Little Zoo in the World”.


tbz news

Have you visited The Belize Zoo website lately to take a look at the latest newsletter?

If not, take a stroll over: http://www.belizezoo.org/newsletters/

Such a busy, busy place, doing GREAT work!


Meet and Greet the Misunderstood

From Sharon . . . 

Three important Zoo Ambassadors journeyed to visit the “Eco-Kids Summer Camp” at Chaa Creek recently.   They met 23 kids and brought to the eager campers the zoo’s cool program, “Meet and Greet the Misunderstood”.     The program is very interactive.  In order to meet the first Ambassador, the one and only “Happy the Owl”, his song first had to be sung with “Elvis enthusiasm”.   The room rang out with Happy the Owl’s very own signature tune, and after three go-rounds, out popped “Happy the Owl”, proud to meet his young singing admirers.  “Happy” shared many Barn Owl facts.  What Barn Owls eat, what makes them able to fly silently, and also, the acute hearing level of a Barn Owl, was not ignored.  Barn Owls like “Happy” who live in northern climates, can detect the heartbeat of a mouse when it is three feet under the snow!

Then, each camper got the opportunity to meet “Happy” very close and give him one of his very favourite things:  A scratch on the beak.  Many of the eco-campers were familiar with the untrue and unkind reputation which has followed the Barn Owl throughout its range, including Belize.  It is believed by many that these beautiful birds are the “bird of misery and evil”, and represent bad luck.  To the contrary, as everyone learned that day from “Happy”, Barn Owls are such good friends!  Eating more rats and mice than any other animal on the planet surely makes them heroes, not villains.
After “Happy the Owl” said goodbye, out from her special carry-bag appeared “Rose”, the American crocodile.   A friendly crocodile?   Yes, she is, and also, a very good teacher about the important role her species plays in Belizean ecology.   Top predators, such as the American crocodile, work to keep habitats in balance.  Without them, the environment would become much poorer in its profile.  The Croc-facts were interesting, but what really got the room rocking was having the opportunity to stroke “Rose”, and hold her, too.

Of course, it was shared that Owls and Crocodiles are not to be looked upon as “pets”.  Both “Rose” and “Happy” go through daily training to remain effective people-loving “Ambassadors”.  Both animals would not have had a chance at life, if they had not been rescued by the zoo, and provided a good home. 

The third Ambassador was none other than “Bal Boa”, the zoo’s friendly Boa Constrictor.  Again, it was emphasized the important role these handsome and harmless snakes play in Belize.  Zoo Educator, Jamal Andrewin, carried “Bal Boa” around the room, and also, reflected upon the sad issue of people selling Boa Constrictors to certain Chinese living in Belize, for food.  Not only does this reflect poorly on how some people choose to treat our very special natural resources, but it is also illegal.

It was all fun and exciting education.  Zoo Ambassadors, “Happy”, “Rose”, and “Bal Boa”, spent a special time with the Chaa Creek Eco-Kids , and left behind a TON of knowledge and happy memories.



From Sharon . . .

April Enjoying Birthday Cake!
And what a celebration it was! Over 250 people came to the zoo and big smiles were seen everywhere. Education Officer Jamal Andrewin led the way, and proudly introduced our brand new tapir poster and also, another delightful tapir-friendly broadcast: A bumper sticker to commemorate April’s 30th birthday. However, this sticker also carries with it an important story. A contest was held for school kids to come up with a slogan to celebrate April’s 30th year here in Belize. The winners, Angela, Tanya, Ruth and Aba from Buena Vista school in the Cayo District, were the creative force behind a new bumper sticker, spelling out “APRIL”….A ppreciation. P rotection. R espect. I ntegrity. L ove. 

Janet Gibson with "then and now" poster of April and Claire
Another important story involved Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Mrs. Janet Gibson. Mrs. Gibson gave the zoo a charming photo of her daughter Claire, taken in 1983, with the then “toddler” April the tapir. Thirty years later, Claire Gibson, now thirty-two years old, visited the zoo again with her Mom and sought out her old friend, April. We merged the two photos together, and they tell a visual and profound story. Claire is an example of many children and adults, too, who have known this wonderful mountain cow, our significant representative National Animal, over the years. For three decades, April the tapir has brought the magic of her species, the Central American tapir, to thousands. Our nation has grown up with April. As a result, a greater understanding about her unique species, which, yes, is Endangered, has come about. And check out this important tapir-fact: April the tapir is the oldest female tapir in captivity!

Belize City Tumblers
April’s birthday celebration, meshed with National Tapir Day,( which was officially approved and declared by our Government last year), had the joy of music, too. The Panerrifix Steel Band Jr. Division from Belmopan, entertained everyone. And on the subject of entertaining…... Out tumbled the Belize City Tumblers to add a dash of acrobatic talent and awe to the big day.

Jamal wisely planned the presentation of four birthday cakes for our beloved April. This gave all of the visiting school children a chance to view April happily devour a cake with pure glee as they sang the birthday song to her. She certainly did not mind having four small cakes instead of one big one.

April the tapir stands for so much at The Belize Zoo. For thirty years, she has brought a ton of joy and pride to the people of Belize. Without a doubt, it can be strongly stated that this one special animal, rescued as an injured baby thirty years ago, has opened the eyes and hearts of so many. April the tapir! Happy Birthday! You are a gift to our special nation. And a joy to us all. Many happy returns!

Then and now poster "up close"


Post Script from Jamal:

TBZ got superb media coverage from the 3 leading media stations. Our Facebook page blew up with hundreds of new fans overnight because of that iconic photo merge of April and Claire Gibson in 1983 and 2013.  I can’t tell you how overwhelmed we felt with such positive energy running through the zoo all of Friday. Here are the news piece links if you’d like to see some more about the day:



From Sharon . . . 

A beautiful new-arrival to the zoo is “Rose,” a baby salt water croc.  Her story is a bit of a giggle, but are we ever glad she is with us.   A crocodile egg was given to a Forest Department official months ago, as an “education resource.”  The egg was thought to be infertile.   But surprise!   A short time after the egg was handed over, out came a baby croc.   Not knowing how to really care for the babe, “Rose” was handed over to croc-loving Tony Garel at The Belize Zoo.

At the zoo, she immediately had lots admirers.  We fell in love with her.  It was decided that a good amount of “croc care” and training should come her way, so that she would retain a love for her human caretakers, and become a very fine ambassador for her species.   Crocodiles are often persecuted, and most of the time, negative attitudes towards these handsome reptiles
are due to a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Yes, they live in salt water, and salt water crocs especially like habitat around mangroves.  These prehistoric-looking reptiles are fond of lagoons, too.  They will often make their way up rivers, leaving their salt-water home behind.  What is on the menu for a salt water croc?  Baby “Rose” loves to chomp down on cockroaches and crickets.  In the wild, they eat insects and little fish.   As they grow, they will dine on turtles and larger fish and also birds.  If they can snatch a small mammal, that works, too!

Mama croc will build a nest, and eighty days later, the eggs will crack open and out will poke a baby croc.   If the nesting temperatures are on the consistently warm side, female crocs emerge.  Cooler temperatures produce males.   After hatching, the Mama croc will then gently take each baby and carefully place in the water.  She will guard over them.  Crocodiles, including the salt water crocodile, are very protective and caring towards their young.  This type of maternal-care behavior is usually associated with mammal species.  But crocs show affection and parental-bonding..…..as the sign says by the crocodile exhibit at The Belize Zoo, “Someone forgot to tell ‘um…We crocs have a cerebellum”…What the sign goes on to cheerfully explain is that this part of the brain is where our emotional side is formed and kept live and active.  A cerebellum provides the brain space for feelings and emotions.    Crocodiles have feelings just as we humans do.  Very amazing!

Baby “Rose” is fond of a snout-rub and a back scratch.  She is shown to visitors who learn about crocodile natural history, and as she grows and remains tame and friendly, we know that she will bring a great deal of important information to zoo visitors about her special and Endangered species here in Belize:  The Salt Water Crocodile.  “Rose” truly Glows!!