In 1983 Richard Foster came to Belize to film a wildlife documentary. Over a dozen animals used in filming became partly tame by the time shooting wrapped, so Sharon Matola, the American biologist in charge of their care, decided to found the Belize Zoo to give them somewhere to call home.
Today, the Belize Zoo covers 29 acres (11.7 hectares) and is home to more than 150 animals representing 45 species native to the country. Many of the zoo’s residents are rescue animals who have been injured, orphaned or donated from other zoos, and the spacious enclosures make it feel more like a wildlife refuge than a typical zoo.
Among the Belize Zoo’s star tenants are the five species of wild cats native to Belize: jaguar, puma, margay, ocelot and jaguarundi. Other animals in residence include spider monkeys, manatees, scarlet macaws, toucans, tree frogs and boa constrictors. If a half-day visit to the zoo isn’t enough, wildlife-loving visitors can stay the night in the neighboring Belize Zoo Lodge, which has its own nature trails and birdwatching deck.