A Trip to the Belize Zoo
It’s a strange world we live in today. A world where intellectually superior creatures are confined to what ultimately amounts to nothing more than a fish bowl or hamster cage, and on the other hand, us, humans - curious, proud, seemingly invincible – prod and stare, for our own knowledge and pleasure. But despite the irony and sadness, zoos can also bring us, and our furry friends, a tremendous amount of hope.
When Travel Belize suggested I visit the Belize Zoo I was initially quite skeptical. The last time I went to a zoo was when I was a small child, blissfully unaware of the concept of keeping wild animals in cages. But I was surprised by what I found at the Belize Zoo: an animal sanctuary where the focus truly is on the animals and their rehabilitation. The zoo only keeps animals that were orphaned, rescued, rehabilitated, born at the zoo, or sent as donations from other zoological institutions.
As I stepped out of the air-conditioned car and into the gravel parking lot, the blaring hot afternoon sun instantly scalded the top of my head. It was a relief to enter the cool shade of the Belize Zoo, where I was surprised to find it looked more like a nature park or a kind of overgrown botanical garden, with walking paths carved into the lush flora.
Following the excited squeals of some of the zoo’s youngest visitors, I made my way along the shaded path, stopping left and right to catch a glimpse of the animals.
Mischievous coatimundis were darting around digging in the dirt with their long claws, nocturnal ocelots slept curled up like house cats under the shade of the trees, and the ominous rustling of massive tree branches and leaves in one particular habitat eventually revealed a family of noisy howler monkeys. The obvious stars of the Belize Zoo are the resident jaguars, one of which was lazily hanging out right at the outer edge of his habitat during my visit.
Looking into the dark eyes of the fierce predator, I felt a sadness to see the powerhouse animal trapped behind bars. But the truth of the matter is, were it not for the Belize Zoo, the majority of the animals in here would have most likely been killed long ago.
What began as a small, backyard refuge for animals that had been used in making documentary films about tropical rainforests quickly grew into a fully-fledged zoo, developed upon 29 acres of savanna, with over 170 animals, many of which are native to Belize.
Even after all this time, a little bit of ambiance from the zoo’s humble beginnings can still be felt today: from the cheeky hand painted signs along the walk paths to the monkeys that are free to come and go as they please, to the zoo’s friendly owner, who was manning the front office when I visited, to the proud display of newspaper clipping’s highlighting Steve Irwin’s visit during a trip to Belize, the zoo has held on to it's down-to-earth roots.
What you need to know
The Belize Zoo is located directly on the George Price Highway, 29 miles outside of Belize City, and is open daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Entry is $15 USD for adult foreign visitors, $5 USD for visiting foreign children, $7 BZ for Belizean adults, and $2 BZ for Belizean children.
If you go at a leisurely pace you can check out all of the animals in under two hours, but the amount of time spent at the zoo is up to each visitor. As the zoo is located in a tropical climate, it's important to stay hydrated and drink lots of water. The on-site gift shop has refreshments and snacks available for purchase, as well as local crafts and souvenirs.
Many thanks to Travel Belize for hosting my tour of the Belize Zoo. All opinions are, as always, my own.