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Belize's Unique Wildlife: From Jaguars to Tapirs

Jaguar stands on a branch in a lush rainforest

In addition to boasting the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the small country of Belize has protected more than a third of its land.

 

Mayflower-Bocawina National Park is a spectacular part of that protected area. Connecting the Maya Mountains to the coast, Bocawina spans more than 7,000 acres of highlands and lowlands, rivers and waterfalls. Within these lush surroundings, more than 230 species of birds, like motmots and toucans, chatter overhead and an array of unusual mammals (many endangered like Geoffroy’s spider monkey) thrive. It is also a critical habitat for the mystical jaguar. These big cats aren’t the official national animal—that’s the Baird’s tapir—but they are a symbolic icon of Belize and a flagship species for the nation’s conservation work.


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Supporting the efforts of local biologists, naturalists, and preservationists, the international organization Panthera researches the behavior of jaguars and works to mitigate human-jaguar conflict. Panthera studies the interaction of jaguar populations in the Maya Forest Corridor; Bocawina is part of that as well as the Maya Mountain Massif, where most of Belize’s jaguars roam.

 

A lone jaguar pauses for a drink in the rainforest.

 

These magnificent but elusive creatures are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. Even if they remain hidden much of the time, their presence is well-documented. Panthera has dotted the area with remote and strategically placed camera "traps." These motion-actived traps frequently capture thrilling images and help researchers learn more about jaguar behavior. On our visit to the park, we’ll hike along the trails, hope to spot the tracks of these jungle cats, and hear more about jaguar conservation alongside our naturalists and local experts.    

 

But that isn’t the only extraordinary wildlife locale we’ll explore. After leaving Bocawina, we’ll board Zodiacs and head into the jungle for a Monkey River safari. On the Caribbean Sea at the mouth of a river of the same name, the small village of Monkey River is a gateway to a stellar mix of jungle denizens. It should be no surprise that howler monkeys are found in abundance here, but many other creatures may be observed on land, in the air, and in the water as well. Some of Belize’s mammals may not be household names for many North Americans, yet. Scroll through below to familiarize yourself:  

 

According to Victoria Forman, a Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic naturalist, “This waterway saw human use as early as the Mayan settlements for routing trade, and it continues to see use to this day by the banana industry for transport. Habitats in this watershed provide cover for such diverse species as ocelots, jaguars, black howler monkeys, Morelet’s crocodiles, manatees, and numerous avian species.”

 

A past guest aboard our voyage reinforced the incredible abundance of life in Monkey River: “It became readily apparent how difficult it might be for one to find space in this territory that isn’t riddled with wildlife in one way or another. Our group spotted, with the help of our keen-eyed naturalists, crocodiles, green iguanas, black howler monkeys, and a diverse mix of birds adorning the Belizean sky.”

 

Mayflower-Bocawina National Park and Monkey River are just two of the incredible experiences you'll have on our Belize itinerary. Find out what else we do, see, and learn.