The savanna habitat surrounding the Belize Zoo is part of one of the most unique ecosystems in Belize. Less than 10% of Belize’s land surface area is classified as savanna, but this small percentage contains over 40% of Belize’s endemic species! Additionally, water retention during the rainy season, providing habitat and corridors for wildlife (including game species), and yielding timber and medicinal products are a few of the many important services the savanna provides.
Guests at our Tropical Education Center have had the opportunity to explore this wonderful habitat through the use of a fabulous trail system developed by Zoo colleague and long time friend, Dr. Betsy Mallory. Dr. Betsy recently took the exploration a step further when she teamed up with TBZ to host a great group of Biology students from Sacred Heart Junior, SHJC, College.
Led by Dr. Betsy and teachers Leroy Jones and Richard Flowers, these eager scientists spent 3 days using the savanna as a “living classroom.” They developed a long term monitoring program focused on the fire ecology and health of Caribbean pine trees in the area. Future SHJC students will participate in yearly assessments of these established monitoring sites, contributing to unprecedented research about this fascinating ecosystem.
Fascinating, and a little tough! The SHJC team experienced real field science, which involved trial and error, revising strategies, and, of course, dealing with the elements. While setting up their research sites in the wide open savannah, the students got everything from hot sun to surprise heavy downpours. Sweaty, soaked, but determined, they soldiered on like true scientists.
One of the field days included a detour expedition to Runaway Creek Nature Reserve, RCNR. This amazing 6,000 acre reserve is a must-do for budding field biologists. Led by the team from Birds Without Borders, the SHJC group learned valuable field research techniques, and explored the broadleaf forest, savanna, and mysterious caves of RCNR.
TBZ congratulates the SHJC team on pioneering such a great project, and we look forward to many future collaborations .