I traveled to Belize this summer as part of Project Dragonfly’s Earth Expeditions graduate program (part of Miami University’s Global Field Program), where I’ll be completing a degree in Conservation Biology over the next couple of years. My mind was open to any kind of experience as I went; all I knew I had read in books prior to leaving. I’d never traveled to Central America before.
Flying in over Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula made me realize that I was almost there. The trip didn’t seem real to me until this point.
It hit me very early on that I didn’t know if I was in the rain forest or not. I later learned that my idea of a rainforest was a “cloud forest”, which is located in much higher elevations than where we were staying at the Tropical Education Center in central Belize.
My classmates and I took an evening tour of the Belize Zoo on the first night. My preconception was that I would need to be wary of snakes, bugs, and other biting creatures. This wasn’t an issue at all. A little bug spray was enough to keep insects at bay, and I learned that the local snake population really wants nothing to do with me and would more than likely take off at the sound of my approach.
It turns out that my trip to Belize was as more about personal learning and growth than about content learning. While I learned facts about jaguarundis, black howler monkeys, termites, and iguanas, my real learning experience occurred as my understanding of Belize’s natural elements grew to an appreciation, and then to a deep connection. Part of what made this connection real for me was my experiences at the Belize Zoo.
The Belize Zoo tries very hard to allow its guests, primarily Belizians, to come to know their own national animals in a personal way. Unlike American zoos, where patrons have to observe animals from a safe distance, the Belize Zoo offers its collection to people with little obstruction. One might argue that this isn’t safe (sometimes I wonder if we Americans are actually too protected from ourselves), but I really love the way I was able to see Junior Buddy, a jaguar, exist in his enclosure.
To say that Junior is a beautiful creature is certainly an understatement.
I pushed my limits during a night hike, because I wasn’t going to let my discomfort keep me from seeing everything I could see in Belize. I have a deep dislike of walking into spider webs, for example. And all of the glowing eyes at night probably had fangs behind them. But I realized that this experience would help define my trip to Belize. If I hadn’t gone on this hike, I wouldn’t have seen a Pygmy Owl dive down and catch a mouse right in front of my group.
In his book The Value of Life, Stephen Kellert argues that there is an actual biological connection between humans and nature (Kellert 1997). Author Richard Louv (Last Child In the Woods, The Nature Principle, Vitamin N) expresses concern about kids not getting outside enough, that they are actually lacking some part of their human development because they are remaining separate from nature. My personal reading experience concerning a person’s connection to nature comes from a less scientific place – nature writers like Aldo Leopold, Sigurd F. Olson, John Muir, and others. There is a similar idea between all of these authors: humans and nature are a natural combination.
The question now is, how do I bring my experiences from Belize home and share my deep connection to nature with other people?
What do you think? Questions, comments, joys and concerns?
Doer of Stuff
Kellert, S. (1997) The value of life: biological diversity and human society. New York: Island Press.