Why You Should Visit the Best Little Zoo in the World

by Khaila Gentle
Belize wild cat margay big

Come Saturday, December 17, the Belize Zoo will finally be reopening its doors—thanks in no small part to kind donations and volunteer work during their post-Hurricane Lisa recovery.

Those following the zoo’s updates will remember that the passing of Hurricane Lisa in early November forced them to close, since many of their paths and animal enclosures suffered damages. Little by little though, they have been able to rebuild and the zoo’s residents were slowly relocated to their habitats.

Photo by The Belize Zoo & Tropical Education Center

The Best Little Zoo in the World

Never been to the Belize Zoo? Well, you’re missing out. There’s a reason its nickname is “The Best Little Zoo in the World”.  Home to more than 200 animals and over 45 native species, the Belize Zoo & Tropical Education Center has a history  as colorful as its inhabitants.

It was founded in 1983 by Sharon Matola and has since been recognized worldwide.  But back then, it was just a small sanctuary, birthed from a small act of selflessness, for animals left behind after a documentary project. An article by The Washington Post from 1995 details how Matola, who was left with the animals, found herself at a crossroads. She would have either had to put them down or take care of them.

“Matola threw herself into saving the animals. In desperation, she painted a Belize Zoo sign and stuck it by the road,” it reads.

Sharon Matola’s legacy lives on at The Belize Zoo © CCL/Leonardo Melendez Photography

Since then, all the animals housed by the zoo have been orphans, rescues, rehabilitated animals, animals born at the zoo, or donations from other institutions. Matola passed away in March 2021, but her legacy lives on, in the zoo and its accompanying Tropical Education Center, as well as the recently established Sharon Matola Wildlife Sanctuary.

 Learn About Belize’s Native Wildlife at The Belize Zoo

Located at mile 29 on the George Price Highway, the zoo remains an educational icon in Belize. It is the place where people, locals and tourists alike, go to learn about the country’s native wildlife. It is also where many nature enthusiasts first discover their love for all things wild. Here, visitors can come face to face with some of the country’s most beloved animal ambassadors, like Boomer the jabiru stork; tapirs Marchisimo, Fuego, and Tambo; Hoodwink the Spectacled Owl; and Rainbow the Keel-Billed Toucan.

Today, notwithstanding its recent closure, the zoo has welcomed over 75,000 visitors yearly. As with many other businesses though, they have had to contend with the effects of the recent pandemic.  Those wishing to donate to the Zoo can do so here.

The Belize Zoo is the physical embodiment of one woman’s love for the country’s wildlife. And if nothing else, the show of support that has helped the zoo to get back on its feet is a testament of the true Belizean community spirit.

Feature photo is Rich the Margay. Photo by The Belize Zoo

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