Everything You Need To Know About Belize’s Wildlife

by Larry Waight

Belize is one of the best places in the world to see amazing wildlife. Although it’s a small country, Belize has varied ecosystems, including coastlines, island atolls, tropical jungles and even mountain pine forests. Here’s what you need to know about Belize’s incredible fauna.

Rare, Unique Animals

 

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Belize has some unusual native animals. The Baird’s tapir, also known as the mountain cow, is a herbivore that sands about three feet tall and can weigh more than 500 pounds. These unusual animals were once hunted to near extinction, but conservation efforts have turned them into a local favorite. The mountain tapir is now Belize’s national animal, and there are large forest reserves set aside to preserve them.

 

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The kinkajou is a nocturnal animal related to raccoons and coatis. It has a long tail, huge eyes and a sweet expression. Sometimes known as “honey bears,” these adorable animals live in the trees of Belize’s jungles. Kinkajous are not endangered, but they have been victims of the illegal pet trade.

You can see kinkajous and mountain tapirs at The Belize Zoo or at one Belize’s many wildlife sanctuaries.

Belize’s Big Cats

© Takuto Kurosawa, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Belize wild cat margay big
Rich the Margay. Photo by The Belize Zoo
jaguarundi
An ocelot. Photo by Dreamstime
Puma. Photos Courtesy Belizing.com
baby ocelot flood victim the belize zoo adopt
Consider adopting an animal at The Belize Zoo, like this ocelot cub rescued from the 2020 floods in Belize. Photo by The Belize Zoo

Belize has five native species of wild cat. They are jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundi, panthers and margay. The ancient Maya revered the jaguar, and this large, spotted cat is still culturally important to Belizeans. Belize established the world’s first jaguar sanctuary at Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Although sightings of this shy, nocturnal animal are rare, you can sometimes spot their tracks in the sanctuary trails.

The ocelot is a small, spotted big cat known for its gorgeous fur and adorable face. Of all the big cats, you are most likely to spot ocelots because they’re active in the daytime. Ocelots were hunted for their fur, but they are now a protected species. The margay is the smallest of Belize’s big cats. Also known as the tree ocelot, the margay is the best climber among the big cats. It lives primarily in the forest treetops and hunts small mammals.

 

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The panther is also called the puma, mountain lion or cougar. These sleek brown cats are excellent hunters. Panthers can weigh up to 200 pounds. Jaguarundis are small wild cats. They have dark brown or reddish-brown fur, short legs and long, slender bodies. Jaguarundis live in rainforests and pine forests. They prefer to hunt on the ground.

Birding in Belize

Besides Belize being a premier destination for wildlife, it’s also a great place for birders. With more than 300 native species of birds, it is also part of many birds’ migratory patterns. Experienced and novice birdwatchers have recorded hundreds of species in a single birding trip.

aplomado falcon birding in molt francis canto jr

An Aplomado Falcon in molt. © Francis Canto Jr.

Belize has more than 20 hummingbird species, and it’s common to see these fascinating birds in the sanctuaries and preserves. You can spot kingfishers, motmots, toucans, mangrove swallows, Amazon kingfishers, squirrel cuckoos, scarlet macaws, Yucatan vireos, crossbills, pine siskins, stygian owls and orange-breasted falcons.

Conservation Matters

Turneffe Reef Atoll. Photo courtesy Duarte Dellarole.

Belize has taken major steps to conserve its ecology and promote sustainable tourism. Almost 40% of the country is protected by a nature reserve, marine reserve or national park. The government has instituted laws to regulate fishing and other industries that depend on the health of the Belize Barrier Reef.

cacao - chocolate festival 2020

A raw cacao pod in Southern Belize.

This made Belize an ideal destination for eco-tourists and people who want to be close to nature. In Belize, you can enjoy agricultural tours that give you a firsthand look at sustainable banana farming or cacao farming. Birding expeditions and wildlife viewing trips are available to anyone who wants to see Belize’s amazing flora and fauna.

White-lipped Peccaries (Tayassu pecari) walking through a cacao farm in the Maya Golden Landscape. | Photo: Ya’axché

Belizeans are proud of their beautiful country and proud to show it to visitors. They ask that you offer the same respect for nature by observing wildlife at a distance, wearing reef-safe sunscreen and using eco-friendly bug spray.

Aquatic Animals

Mangroves provide many services, including nursery and feeding grounds for a variety of species, such as this school of snappers sheltering in Tunicate Cove, Belize.
Photo by Tim Laman

Belize’s coastline is rich in mangrove flats and sea grass plains, which makes it ideal for manatees. The barrier reef and surrounding atolls are ideal places to see sea turtles, barracudas, tropical fish, reef fish, dolphins and whale sharks.

Snorkeling and scuba diving are the best ways to see this incredible marine life. Chartered boats can take you out into the Caribbean Sea to see these beautiful aquatic creatures.

Where to See Wildlife

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Belize Audubon Society

You can see Belize’s wonderful wildlife at one of the many sanctuaries and preserves, including:

  • Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary  
  • Rio Bravo Conservation Area
  • Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve
  • Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve
  • Chiquibil Forest Reserve
Sunrise Baldy Beacon by Roni Martinez-cayo-belize

Sunrise on Baldy Beacon in the Cayo District. Image courtesy Roni Martinez

It’s also possible to see them at the Community Baboon Sanctuary and The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, which is a sanctuary for injured and orphaned wildlife.  Visit Belize to see beautiful animals, birds, fish and other wildlife.  

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