For over thirty years, Burgers' Zoo, together with the Swiss butterfly park Papiliorama, has protected a nature reserve of more than 400 square kilometres in Belize. 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 become acquainted with other small-scale, successful species and nature conservation projects locally. We are happy to support them too! Thus, nature conservation in Belize has become one of our main conservation priorities, even besides our "own project". In this monthly series, we will discuss current developments in Belize. In this edition: a promising on-site inspection in January 2022.
Despite two challenging years due to the COVID pandemic, our conservation project in Belize is doing well. Our Conservation, Research and Education Manager came to this positive conclusion after an in-person visit in January 2022. With the outbreak of the COVID pandemic in 2019, Burgers' Zoo and the Swiss butterfly park Papiliorama immediately expressed their commitment to conservation work in Belize in word and deed. By guaranteeing that salaries would continue to be paid and that the annual donations to the project would remain unchanged, we brought a great deal of peace and stability to the Central American country, which was hit hard by the COVID pandemic. Belize is largely dependent on international tourism for revenue, and global travel restrictions meant that this was largely lost. Many other projects in tropical countries also saw a sharp decline in donations from Europe and North America since the pandemic; fortunately, we were able to guarantee continuity.
Our Conservation, Research and Education Manager travelled to Belize in late December with a small contingency to catch up on the project. In Freshwater Creek, part of the 400 square kilometre nature reserve we protect, the official status has changed from Forest Reserve to Special Management Area: Corridor. The area forms an important ecological link with other parts of our nature conservation area and has been officially awarded this status. The focus has also shifted slightly away from planting new mahogany trees and other hardwoods—more than 30,000 tree seedlings have been planted in the past ten years, of which an estimated one-third have survived.
The drive to Shipstern was a surprise as the project to improve the road between Sarteneja and Corozal has made progress. “Improving” the road, in this case, includes a massive widening. This improved infrastructure will have various effects, including increasing the flow of day-trippers and local tourists to Sarteneja and Shipstern. However, a better road will also lead to more animal casualties and make extracting poached animals or illegally logged timber easier. Another side effect of the road improvement is that it will lead to rising land prices in the area, making the 'Warrebight North' area even more difficult to purchase. We would have liked to include 'Warrebight North' in our protected area to preserve it as a forest.
In Shipstern, all the maintenance work, such as painting and extending the office spaces, has just been completed. The watchtower has been given a new roof, and the Birders' Lodge and the visitor centre have been refurbished. Importantly, multiple new ranger posts have been constructed in various places to provide better field supervision. A footpath has been built at the southern end of Shipstern Lagoon to open up this extraordinary habitat to visitors. And, last but not least, the rangers have all received new uniforms; this was funded by 'Friends of Belize' (a group of about 150 donors).
It was nice to see that a lot of progress has been made. With many Belizeans affected by the COVID pandemic, illegal logging and poaching are on the rise across the country. It is extremely important to be visible in the field to keep a close eye on the nature reserve. Nature conservation is under global pressure during this COVID pandemic, and our continued active support is more important than ever!
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