The adrenaline surge makes my head spin. My hands are inches from my face; I can’t see them. I swing my legs from the wooden bunk and frantically pat the silk sheet either side of me. Nothing. I bend over and fossick around on the tacky wood floor. The cold textured metal of a Maglight grazes my sweaty palm and my heart immediately begins to slow.
The night had passed in scanning the salt lick opposite with a powerful torch borrowed from the restaurant downriver. Fortunately, we caught a glimpse of a Malayan tapir before the bulb faded to a dull glow. The night was a success. I couldn’t identify the animal at the time – days later, when I saw a photo, I recognized this creature resembling a piglike pony as a tapir.
Several years after that night in Malaysia, I learned that Baird’s tapir, native to Central America, is upheld in Belize as the national animal. Baird’s tapir belongs to a different species from the Malaysian tapir I observed nocturnally roaming the forests within the Taman Negara conservation area in Malaysia. I appreciate the existence of these areas, where unique species such as the tapir enjoy protected habitats… and where I get a chance to witness them in the wild.
Another such conservation area exists in Belize: the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. The Belize Audubon Society manages this preserve, and is largely responsible for instilling the Belizean government with a commitment to protect natural environments around the country. Formed in 1969, the Belize Audubon Society holds the distinction of being the oldest conservation organization in Belize, and it currently benefits from the support of over 1400 members and 40 professionals.
Today, this society oversees nine protected areas in Belize. The Belize Audubon Society persists in playing a vital role as a steward of Belize’s national treasures: unique plant species, diverse wildlife, and distinctive ecosystems.
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument
Belize’s oldest protected site (established 1982). A birding hotspot, home to the western Caribbean’s only breeding colony for the red-footed booby. Dive or snorkel to see reef walls dramatically plummet from the caye’s edge to 6,000 feet below the surface.
Blue Hole Natural Monument
At 1,000 feet across and over 400 feet deep, the Great Blue Hole is the world’s largest sinkhole of its kind. Made famous by Jacques Cousteau. Mecca for advanced deep-water scuba divers.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
The world’s first jaguar preserve, home to a globally-diminishing tropical moist forest environment. This sanctuary has expanded massively in size over the years. Originally 3,600 acres, it now encompasses more than 128,000 acres.
Victoria Peak Natural Monument
The highest mountain in the Cockscomb range, and the second-highest point in Belize. A three-to-four-day hike up this mountain offers travelers the pinnacle of adventure in Belize.
Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve
Originally maintained by a conservationist couple, the area was entrusted to the government in 1990. Named for Baird’s tapir, the national animal of Belize.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Natural Monument
Site of the Cave of the Stone Sepulcher. Caving adventures begin on the edge of the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. Only two tour companies are licensed to take visitors into the cave. An important archaeological site for the study of the Maya who once inhabited the cave.
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park
Popular swimming and tubing destination. Visitors can explore the cave alone or with the help of a guide.
Guanacaste National Park
Two miles from Belize’s capital city Belmopan; a popular place to relax. A BAS member involved in the 1960s construction of Belmopan helped to secure these fifty acres as a conservation area.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
A 16,400-acre wetland and terrestrial habitat. Home to a number of endangered species, including the Central American river turtle and the Mexican black howler monkey. Also home of the protected Jabiru stork.
Members of the Audubon Society not only work to protect Belize’s most cherished natural places, but they also pride themselves on their research efforts, environmental education, community development and advocacy.
Whether you spot a Baird’s tapir, a jaguar, a Jabiru, a manatee or any other incredible species of Belizean wildlife, you now know to thank the Audubon Society for affording you such an opportunity.