On October 24th, the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center sustained a direct hit from Hurricane Richard, and much of its rustic setting of wire fences and abundant forest were destroyed in the storm’s raging winds.
The Zoo, located west of Belize City on 29 acres of tropical savanna, was founded in 1983 by American Sharon Matola as a last ditch effort to provide a home for a collection of wild animals that had been used to make documentary films about tropical forests.
Once again, Matola, the Zoo’s director and the main character in the popular book The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird, is dealing with a huge challenge.
“Hurricane Richard did a number on the Zoo. We are closed for repairs and renovations and probably will not be able to re-open until December. Thankfully, none of the animals were injured or escaped, but our facility has been hit hard,” said Matola, who has lived in Belize for more than 25 years.
Help by going to www.belizezoo.org to donate.
The Zoo is home to more than 125 animals of about 48 species, all native to Belize, which were orphaned, born at the zoo, rehabilitated, or sent as gifts from other zoological institutions.
Hurricane Richard leveled most of the vegetation at The Belize Zoo, downed trees choking pathways among the animal exhibits, flattening wooden decks, platforms, and crushing steel fencing surrounding the animal exhibits. The plumbing system providing water and drainage for the exhibits and the electric fences were damaged.
In normal times the Zoo struggles to balance its budget with the food for the animals and staff salaries literally depending on gate receipts. But the added expense of repairs, combined with the temporary closing of the Zoo, means the financial challenge has never been greater.
“Hurricane Richard may have set back our progress in raising awareness about the special natural resources in this nation, but we are determined to go forward with good planning and enthusiasm,” Matola said.
“Our conservation programs are effective and bring forward an important understanding about the biodiversity still thriving in this little nation. The Belize Zoo will definitely still be worthy of being known as “the best little zoo in the world.” Assistance to see that our mission continues to soar is deeply appreciated,” Matola said.
The greatest needs are truckloads of strong and durable fencing, cement, gravel and large rocks, PVC piping, steel pipe, lumber, wire, nails, and paint, as well as new tools, new water pumps and money to pay workers.
People can help by going to www.belizezoo.org to donate.
Image: Volunteers from the Belize and American military tackle the enomous task of unmangling and repairing the King Vulture enclosure at the Belize Zoo.