Remembering Junior Buddy the Jaguar 

by Carolee Chanona
junior buddy

At The Belize Zoo, Junior Buddy was likely the country’s most recognizable jaguar. And for good reason. With environmental education, visitors had a unique chance to interact with Junior Buddy as the jaguar. He was a gorgeous example of how majestic and essential wild cats are in Belize. And, why their conservation is so important. Secondly, Junior Buddy was the only jaguar born and raised in The Belize Zoo (TBZ). As Belize mourns the sudden passing of world-famous Junior Buddy, his 12 years has surely left a mark (or pawprint) on the lives he’s touched.  

Junior Buddy’s Background

Springfield, Junior Buddy’s mother, was brought to TBZ as a problem jaguar for targeting sheep in Springfield Village, Cayo. These “problem” jaguars are almost always jaguars that are older, injured, or sick. Therefore, they’re unable to compete with other healthy individuals for food and territory. Overhunting of prey combined with loss of habitat has contributed to a harsh challenge for the remaining jaguar population. TBZ then introduced jaguar rehabilitation for individuals like Springfield in 2003. Today, that program continues for research, education, fundraising efforts, and wild cat conservation. Weak and sickly, dedicated TBZ vets and volunteers attempted to nurse Springfield back to health. Focusing on her health, the vets never realized she was even pregnant. Alas, the surprise cub Junior Buddy became the Zoo’s newest addition.

sharon and junior from belize zoo

Sharon and Junior Photo by The Belize Zoo

Unfortunately, Springfield rejected her son Junior. This led to Junior’s newfound role. Hand-raised by the TBZ family, Junior quickly showed an extremely positive response to human interactions. Later, he was trained for his signature ‘somersault’ and ‘allie up’. Visitors had a unique chance to experience Junior Buddy during his “Jaguar Encounter” tour.

Photo Courtesy: The Belize Zoo
jaguar encounter

Birthday Party

Each year in February, TBZ celebrated Junior Buddy with a ‘birthday party’. Often, over 100 children attended to celebrate! Cake, games, and other fun activities drove home the message of environmental education. The curious children witnessed how fascinating wildcats are to then become jaguar ambassadors.

In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum

Though 2019 unfortunately marked Junior Buddy’s 12th and final Birthday Bash, the event cements TBZ’s mission to respect and admire the wildlife of Belize.    

Junior Buddy is an ambassador for his species. Raising awareness on wildcat conservation, environmental education, and of course, lounging on his signature log. His story instills a deep appreciation and awe for his species in the thousands of zoo visitors over the years. Today, The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center is home to nearly 200 animals, representing over 45 native species. The Zoo keeps orphaned, rescued, or rehabilitated animals. TBZ is a non-governmental and non-profit organization.

junior buddy

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