May 21st, 2019
The last morning at Las Cuevas!!! It’s gone by so fast and the last session of bird watching did not disappoint. Four grey foxes appeared out of the clearing, what appeared to be two adults with their kits. The kits were chasing each other and ran down the trail with one parent romping after them. The other parent tried to ignore them and then yawned, as if sighing, and walked over to find the kits. Two toucans flew into view and we spotted them with a bird scope, as well as a large parrot.
We then said goodbye to Las Cuevas and were off to ATM Cave, Actun Tunichil Muknal, to traverse into the cave to look at Mayan artifacts and human sacrificial remains. Our journey started with a 35 minute hike out from a parking area, traversing three river crossings until reaching an area before the cave entrance. Armed with headlamps and helmets we swam into the cave and climbed up some rocks to begin our journey. The cave has a stream running through it, with constant standing water. Our guide pointed out some crystal formations (don’t touch them!) which made me wide eyed with amazement at the size of them. We continued farther into the cave until we saw two small mammals, two fruit bats. The bats were in a crevice of the cave, hanging upside down sleeping. These fruit bats are quite large and only come out at night to feed on different fruits. Further on into the cave, we climbed up a boulder to reach the central dry chamber, where they Maya conducted rituals.
The chamber was littered with different clay pots, some completely smashed and some with only a small hole poked into them. Our guide explained that it was to release the spirit held inside the object. We saw skulls of those that had been sacrificed and the grand finale. What people dub as the “Crystal Maiden” (it’s actually the remains of boy). It is a mostly intact skeleton of a boy who was brought in the cave possibly after death.
After leaving the cave we went to the Tropical Education Center, where we are staying for tonight, which is right near the Belize Zoo. We were fortunate enough to get a night tour of the zoo and saw so many cool animals. First, we saw a Tapir, the largest terrestrial animal in Central and South America. These mammals can get up to 600 pounds and prefer riverine forests, luckily, they are herbivores. We fed it carrots and watched as its mobile nose moved around. We then saw an Ocelot, the third largest cat in central America. They can grow to 35 inches in length and are carnivorous, feeding on wide range of prey such as iguanas and rodents. They can hunt on the ground and climb trees, and have superb eyesight and hearing. It had tan fur and a spotted pattern along its body. Next, we saw a Puma, the 2nd largest big cat in Central America, it was a spectacular animal. I have never said this about cats but it was beautiful. It had a brown coat and eyes, and was focused on the food that our guide had. The Puma is known as a cougar, mountain lion, and panther around the world. They can reach a little more than 5 feet in length and can be around 140 pounds. Nearly all cougars in the Midwestern and Eastern United States were eliminated by farmers and hunters around the beginning off the 1900s. Fear not for their extinction though! Since the rebound of the white-tail deer population though, puma populations have started to rebound and they are moving back into their normal ranges. Moving on, we saw the small Margay. Margay look similar to ocelots but are much smaller, around house cat size. They are very adept at navigating the canopy, their ankles allowing them to turn their feet 180 degrees outward. They also can climb headfirst down vertical tree trunks.