For over thirty years, Burgers' Zoo and Swiss butterfly park Papiliorama have been protecting a nature reserve in Belize of more than 400 square kilometres. Burgers Mangrove is inspired by this successful nature conservation project and acts as an ambassador for the area. Through our years of work in Belize, we have been introduced to other successful, small-scale, local species and nature conservation projects. We are happy to support them too! Nature conservation in Belize has become one of our main conservation priorities, even besides our "own project". In this monthly series, we will discuss ongoing developments in Belize. This time: a sanctuary for manatees and monkeys.
In 2021, the Burgers' Zoo Conservation Foundation awarded a donation of €50,000 to Wildtracks, a manatee and monkey sanctuary in Belize. Wildtracks cares for orphaned or severely weakened young manatees and injured adult manatees. Calves sometimes lose their mother if she is fatally struck by a boat or becomes entangled in a fishing net and drowns because she cannot make it to the surface to breathe. Despite the high level of protection of these vulnerable, extraordinary mammals on paper, more manatees perish in Belizean waters every year than are born naturally!
Manatee calves need intensive care and are given a bottle every two hours. When they are two years old, they are independent and strong enough to be released back into the wild. This soft release takes place in the adjacent Shipstern lagoon, an area protected by Burgers' Zoo. The animals learn where they can return to if they cannot find enough food, for example. Released manatees are equipped with satellite trackers during the first months after their release, allowing Wildtracks staff to keep a close eye on them for a while. A newly-acquired drone is also used to check the animals’ condition.
COVID-19 has had a large impact on the economy of Belize and, sadly, also on the Wildtracks sanctuary. International travel was impossible for a long time, and international volunteers largely stayed away. As they were short-staffed, paid local workers were employed. This was a good development for the involvement and educational training of the local population, but it drained the budget. Our donation helped train and pay animal caretakers and trackers to support released manatees and monkeys.
In early 2022, a group of spider monkeys is scheduled to be reintroduced to the wild. The new collar transmitters should have arrived in November 2021. The animals will be moved to the pre-release cages in their future habitat in early 2022. The sanctuary is also hand-rearing several young, confiscated howler monkeys that were being kept illegally as pets. The sanctuary also takes in other, mostly smaller mammals. Fortunately, thanks to the donation, the construction of our mammal care unit is now progressing steadily!
Donations to these conservation projects in Belize make a big difference and is illustrated by the following quote from Paul Walker, founder of Wildtracks: "The grant is an absolute Godsend at the moment, both in terms of helping us through these continuing very challenging times from the pandemic and enabling us to move forward with the nursery, trackers, etc.—we really can't thank you enough."
These reports, straight from Belize, give us valuable insight into how our donations are spent and the results of our financial support. Hopefully, this will inspire more donors and further involve our regular followers in this important nature conservation project. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this good cause!
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