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Belize Zoo


Belize Zoo

The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center
The logo depicts Belize's most iconic animals: Keel-billed Toucan, Baird's Tapir and Jaguar
The modest entrance of Belize Zoo
Date opened


1991 in current location
Location Mile 29, Western Highway, Belize
Land area 29 acres (12 ha)[1]
Number of animals 125[1]
Number of species 48
Website .org.belizezoowww

The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center is a zoo in Belize, located some 29 miles (47 km) west of Belize City on the Western Highway. Set in 29 acres (12 ha), the zoo was founded in 1983 by Sharon Matola. It is home to more than 125 animals of about 48 species, all native to Belize. The natural environment of Belize is left entirely intact within the zoo. The dense, natural vegetation is separated only by gravel trails through the forest. The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center receives almost 15,000 school children every year.

The Belize Zoo focuses on educating visitors about the wildlife of Belize through encountering the animals in their natural habitat. The aim is to instill appreciation and pride, and a desire to protect and conserve Belize's natural resources. The Zoo was the recipient of Belize Tourism Board's 9th National Tourism Award, "Educational Award of the Year" in 2009.


  • History 1
  • Animals 2
  • Animal encounters 3
  • Conservation 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


In 1983, a film making team, headed by cinematographer Richard Foster (who later became a resident of Belize), came to Belize to create a documentary entitled "Selva Verde" (Spanish for Green Forest). Sharon Matola accompanied the crew as an assistant and animal caretaker. At the end of filming, funds were exhausted, and there was debate over what to do with the now tame animals. Releasing them into the wild was out of the question, and animal euthanasia seemed too extreme. When the filming crew left, Matola remained with the 17 animals (an ocelot, a puma, a jaguar and several exotic birds), and started a makeshift zoo, using the animals' enclosures as exhibits, to generate funding for their care.[2][3]

It became apparent that Belizeans were largely unfamiliar with the native animals of Belize, and had many misconceptions and superstitions about them. The zoo's focus then shifted to educating residents and visitors alike about the native wildlife of Belize. After garnering local support and both local and foreign donations, the zoo was relocated to its present 29-acre (12 ha) site in 1991.

By 2010 the Belize Zoo was home to more than 170 individuals of 48 species native to Belize. Keeping to its goal of bringing visitors closer to Belize's natural heritage, the zoo only houses native animals. No zoo animal has ever been taken from the wild. Zoo residents were either people’s pets, donated to the zoo, injured and brought in for healing and rehabilitation, born at the Zoo, or sent to the zoo from another zoological facility.[1]


Junior the jaguar

The Belize Zoo is home to a variety of mammals, including Belize's national animal, the Baird's Tapir, and the 5 wildcat species found in Belize: (jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, and jaguarundi). Other mammals include white-tailed deer, red brocket, spider monkey, howler monkey, greater grison, white-lipped peccary, collared peccary, and kinkajou.


The zoo features several species of parrots, owls, and raptors, as well as a wetland aviary. Birds at the zoo include scarlet macaw, jabiru, great egret, wood stork, brown pelican, ornate hawk-eagle, harpy eagle, common black hawk, king vulture, spectacled owl, barn owl, mottled owl, yellow-headed Amazon, white-fronted Amazon, collared aracari, and great curassow.


Reptiles at the zoo include American crocodile, Morelet's crocodile, boa constrictor, fer de lance, and crotalus durissus.

Animal encounters

Close jaguar encounter in the Belize Zoo
Nocturnal Tour

Apart from the traditional day time tour of the zoo, visitors are able to arrange night tours of the zoo, to see activity of the crepuscular and nocturnal animals. The animals on the tour include the tapirs, jaguars, margays, kinkajous, crocodiles, peccaries and howler monkeys.

Junior Buddy encounter

"Junior Buddy" is a young jaguar born and raised in the Belize Zoo. A result of the Problem Jaguar Rehab Program (his mother was a rescued problem jaguar), Junior has been trained to perform several tricks in return for snacks, a form of positive reinforcement training. Visitors have the opportunity to safely enter a cage, within Junior's exhibit, to encounter him on a more personal level. The goal is to promote the appreciation and respect for the jaguar species.

Junior's story has been made into a children's book, to be published and released by Scholastic Corporation, released in October 2010.[4]

Scarlet macaw encounter
Boa encounter



The Belize Zoo is headquarters for the Tapir Specialist Group of the IUCN.[5]

Harpy Eagle Restoration Program

The zoo released its 14th harpy eagle back to the wild in 2009.[6]

Problem Jaguar Rehabilitation Program

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "The Belize Zoo". The Belize Zoo. Archived from the original on 16 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  2. ^ Barcott, B:Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, page 38. Random House, 2008
  3. ^ "Belize Zoo". Fodor's. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  4. ^ " Junior Buddy (Scholastic Readers) (9780545230964): Craig Hatkoff: Books". Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  5. ^ "Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center". Belize Gateway. Archived from the original on 18 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "2009 Newsletter". The Belize Zoo. Archived from the original on 17 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 

External links

  • Official website
  • The Road Chose Me Photos from a visit to the zoo in Jan. 2010
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