With a commendable conservation program in place, over forty per cent of Belize is protected in the form of nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, making it a nature enthusiast’s paradise, up high, on the ground or under the water.
With over six hundred species of birds, enthusiasts flock to Belize to witness a fantastic range of species. These include the scarlet macaw, the keel-billed toucan, and the jabiru stork, which is the largest bird in the western hemisphere. Also look out for the harpy eagle, with its seven foot wingspan, and over 20 species of hummingbird.
You’ll see fascinating birds almost everywhere – in the wetlands, lagoons, forests and coastline. Watch the flocks of pelicans surrounding the local fisherman cleaning their catch on the beaches of San Pedro, whilst the graceful frigate birds glide by. Look out for osprey nests atop telephone poles and houses, as well as other birds of prey including peregrine falcons, kestrels and hawks, plus turkey, king and black vultures.
The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is possibly the best area in all of Central America for bird watching. With a community of around nine hundred, it is a peaceful base for some serious spotting. With lagoons, rivers and swamps a plenty, herons, ducks, kites, osprey, hawks, kingfishers and jabiru storks are here in dense concentration.
On the ground
The diversity of animal life in Belize will keep animal lovers absorbed for days. Felines are present in healthy numbers, including the endangered nocturnal jaguar, the beautiful striped and spotted ocelot, the jaguarundi, the puma or mountain lion and the margay, the smallest of the Belizean cats.
You stand a good chance of at least seeing their tracks at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which is an established jaguar reserve, although your best chance of seeing them is at Belize Zoo, which an admirable and well cared for centre, which acts as more of a rehabilitation center for rescued jungle animals than a zoo.
You’ll also find monkeys such as the black howler monkey and the smaller spider monkey. The Community Baboon Sanctuary is home to around 3,000 monkeys and is the best place to spot them. The community-run centre also offers river boat trips and horseback riding. Other mammals of note are the ant-eating tamandua, the gibnut which resembles a large guinea pig, the omnivorous coati, the piglike collared pecarry and the Baird’s tapir, which is like short stout horse with small tail and ears.
In terms of reptiles, the green iguana is prevalent everywhere and can grown up to 6 feet in length. The American crocodile lives in both salt and fresh water, whilst the Morelot’s crocodile lives in fresh water. They are however rare and do not propose any threat, choosing small pray to feed on rather than a human leg! There are up to 60 species of snake in the forests and waters, with a handful than can be dangerous, so it is always advisable to be with a knowledgeable guide.
Despite its small size, Belize supports a diverse range of plants and forest habitats. It is home to an estimated 4,000 species of flowering plants, including over 730 tree species and some 280 orchid species. For these reasons, Belize has been called a “Garden of Eden,” and it is one of the few countries where thousands of acres of forest are still in semi-pristine condition. Among the plant life of Belize you’ll find mangroves, bamboo, palms, and swamp cypresses, as well as ferns, vines, exotic orchids and flowers creeping from tree to tree, creating a dense growth. You will also encounter classic tropical rain forest species, including tall mahoganies, campeche, sapote, and ceiba, one of the tallest trees in the jungle.
Belizean waters are home to nearly every species of fish, coral and sponge in the Caribbean. Amongst the hundreds of offshore cayes and atolls lies an amazing underwater safari to experience. Off the south coast, near Placencia, whale sharks arrive with the full moon between March and June. You can snorkel or dive with the whale sharks, which are the world’s largest fish and grow up to a whopping 60 feet in length. The waters are also home to nurse, reef and hammerhead sharks, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, barracuda, spot moray eels and even octopus, together with a vast kaleidoscope of reef fish including snapper, jack, angel fish, blue tang with some big old groupers hanging out in the mix.
The rather sedate West Indian manatees hang out in river mouths, around the cayes and in coastal lagoons. They are typically 10 feet in length and are the only vegetarian sea mammals in existence. Hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles are common spots in the waters of Belize.
This article was originally published on The Absolute Belize website. Absolute Belize brings together the best of what Belize has to offer , in one place, to deliver it to you with a personal and professional touch.You can find the original post here.