We left Las Cuevas Research Station right after breakfast, around 6:30. We were all very exhausted, so we pretty much slept until we arrived at ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal). This means the Site of the Stone Sepulcher. It is a Mayan Archaeological site that you need to swim into, and then wade through differing levels of water. Once you get to the dry part (after a good climb up the rocks), there are several perfectly preserved artifacts, including several types of pottery and even human remains. These human remains were most likely victims of human sacrifice-which, as we were told by our tour guide Edward- were offered to the Mayan Gods as an appeasement so that they would send rain and fertile soil to the earth.
After the ATM cave, we headed towards the Tropical Education Center (TEC) across the Belize Zoo, which we will be staying at tonight. On our way, I saw a mahogany farm, a teakwood farm, and an orange farm. In addition, I was able to see a traveler’s palm for the first time, which I was really excited about. Many Belizeans seem to use coconut palms as a type of fence in front of their homes- about 3-4 palms in a row.
After dinner at the TEC, we went for a night visit at the Belize Zoo. All of the animals at the zoo are rescues- take from illegal pet owners or animals that have been found shot or injured. Additionally, all of the animals are native Belizeans.
There were several jaguars, which the zookeeper fed with raw chicken, a porcupine, an ocelot, peccaries and many caotimundi (relatives of the raccoon). We feed a large rodent called a gibnut (aka the “royal” rat) with unripe bananas. In the wild, they live at the base of the Cahoun palm and eat its nuts. We were able to feed a baird’s Tapir with carrots and they are a lot larger than I expected them to be. We also got to hold a boa constrictor! It was even cooler because we were able to see one in the wild, but this one was obviously a lot friendlier since it is domesticated. Its skin was absolutely beautiful.
While this whole experience was amazing on its own, I found it a lot more meaningful because we were able to somewhat see most of these animals in the wild via camera traps. I learned to appreciate that the animals we see in zoos really do have a home in the wild and are able to thrive- once humans disrupt their natural habitats, they are unable to survive and then become dependent on us.