The Belize Zoo began in 1983 when a film crew came to Belize to shoot a documentary called “Selva Verde”. When the movie wrapped, the crew were dismayed to realize that there were no funds to provide continuing care for the animals, many of which were semi-tame and could no longer fend for themselves in the wild.
Not wanting to euthanize the animals, Sharon Matola, the animal wrangler for the documentary, stayed behind in Belize to care for 17 of the animals (including a jaguar) in a type of makeshift zoo. Realizing that many Belizeans were unfamiliar with the indigenous wildlife in their country, Matola raised funds to transform the site into a combination rescue/rehabilitation facility as well as an educational center.
Today, more than 120 animals belonging to 48 different species live on the 29-acre property, all of which are native to Belize and were rescued or rehabilitated, including five species of big cats, crocodiles, tapirs, monkeys, and several species of birds.
The residents of the Belize Zoo do not live in cages but in spacious habitats that are identical to their natural environment. Its sister program, The Tropical Education Center, works with conservation scientists and zoos around the world. Currently, the Tropical Education Center operates a jaguar rehabilitation program, a harpy eagle restoration program, and is the headquarters for the Tapir Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Popular with both foreign visitors and locals alike, the Belize Zoo has become a national leader in raising awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation. The Zoo employs 56 staff, including experienced naturalists and guides who regularly conduct educational field trips for children from around the country.
The Belize Zoo was also the first facility in the country to become 100% accessible for people with limited mobility. Proceeds from hiring guides and the gift shop go towards continuing the work of the BZ&TEC to raise awareness about nature and to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife in Belize.
The Belize Zoo is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:00 PM. Entry is $15 US for non-resident adults and $5 US for non-resident children.