Did my title catch your attention? Now that my mosquito, spider, army ant and a couple of unidentified bites are healing up, I thought I should tell everyone about my trip to Belize that was sponsored by the Houston Zoo’s Staff Conservation Fund (donations from Houston Zoo staff designated for Houston Zoo staff conservation efforts) .
I went down to visit Wildtracks , originally a Manatee rescue/ rehabilitation and release center in Belize. They added the endangered Yucatan Black Howler Monkey in 2010 to their wildlife rehabilitation program and have a successful release program in the nearby Fireburn Forest Reserve. Wildtracks is run by Paul and Zoe Walker and assisted by a dozen or so wonderful volunteers (how to volunteer at Wildtracks link) from all over the globe. Wildtracks is located 2 miles west of the tiny village of Sarteneja in northern Belize (accessed by either 40 miles of dirt road or a 90 minute water taxi…guess which one I chose!).
The primate department at the Houston Zoo has been supporting Yucatan Black Howler Monkey conservation in Belize for many years (read previous blogs here) and Wildtracks since 2010. Last October the primate department raised almost $4000 during the annual Zoo Boo weekends by selling items (some of it hand-made by staff) and raising awareness of howler monkeys and Wildtracks by creating “ Zoe the Zoo Keeper’s Adventure” . Zoe the Zoo Keeper is a character primate staff created to help tell the story of wildlife conservation in Belize. The money raised in October was used to build more caging to house confiscated howler monkeys and to buy fencing for the new pre-release area (an area that prepares them for the wild again) for howlers.
The main purpose of this trip was to discuss opportunities for conservation collaboration with Wildtracks and the Belizean Forestry Department and explore how the Houston Zoo’s staff might enhance Wildtrack’s progress with rehabilitating and releasing howlers back into the wild. Owning wildlife is illegal in Belize and now that Wildtracks has the facility to accept more howler monkeys, the Belize Forestry Department has stepped up confiscations. However, most Belizeans are completely unaware that owning wildlife including howler monkeys is illegal. After meeting with Rasheda Garcia (Forestry Dept manager) and Paul Walker, we all agreed that the next step is focusing on educating Belizeans. We brainstormed several ideas and have come up with a plan that we hope to fulfill in the coming year!