Photo source: Creative commons
When you visit southern Belize, one of the first things you notice—in fact, the one thing you can’t ignore—is the sound of the howler monkeys at night. Their ear-shattering howls will shock you out of a sound sleep, which is no surprise since they are considered to be one of the loudest land animals in the world. In fact, their loud whoops, barks and roars can be heard up to three miles away through the dense rainforest.
The bummer is that they are often hard to see even in daytime, as they stay up in the top of the trees to feed, and they get most of their water from the fruits and leaves they eat. At the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) in Bermudian Landing, however, you can see these animals up close. While still living in the wild, they are quite curious about visitors and will often make an appearance to check out who’s come to visit.
I had no idea what to expect when I visited the 20 square mile sanctuary; knowing that I loved animals, a local suggested that I stop there since it was close to our route through Ladyville, Belize. My friend and I took a guided walking tour through the woods, and it was an incredible experience. A mother howler monkey kept a close watch as her overly curious offspring jumped from branch to branch, coming closer and closer to us until he was actually perched right above our heads. The father, sitting high in the branches, occasionally expressed his displeasure with guttural roars, though the little one chose to ignore him—something parents of all species can identify with.
The mom and child stayed with us while we walked through the rainforest with our guide, who was extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the area. He spoke to the monkeys as if they were old friends, even scolding the little one when he tried to touch my friend’s hair. The entire experience was surreal—and also a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing experience.
This sanctuary is amazing for a number of reasons. Not only does it help to protect around 4,000 endangered black howler monkeys as well as 250 species of birds, but it also creates jobs and income for the surrounding communities. One of the first such protected areas in the world, CBS is made up of privately owned land that has been donated with the goal of protecting its wildlife.
Run by the Women’s Conservation Group since 1998, the sanctuary’s goals include conserving natural resources, fostering sustainable eco-tourism, and helping in the development of cottage industries and enterprises. CBS also encourages the substantial role of women in the conservation, family and economic sector. Instead of hunting the wildlife or clearcutting the forest, people in the seven villages that comprise the sanctuary are cohabitating with the animals to the benefit of all.
The sanctuary’s four-pronged mission—conservation, education, tourism and research—includes a community development component that encourages landowners to farm sustainably and helps villagers develop alternate livelihoods that take advantage of the land while still conserving wildlife and habitats. The money raised through tours, which include the nature walk ($7), night hike ($15), bird tour ($30), canoe tour ($28), nighttime crocodile tour ($55) and villages tour ($50) helps fund the sanctuary’s mission.
There are some places that you visit that stay with you long after you leave, and the Community Baboon Sanctuary is one of those for me. No matter how far I travel, I still hear the howler monkeys’ call.
Have you ever been to an animal sanctuary? What did you think? Tell us about it on Facebook.