Wild Wonders of Belize: Exploring the Biodiversity Paradise | Documentary
Today, Somewhere On Earth invites you to discover Belize. This slip of land tucked between Guatemala and Mexico on the shores of the Caribbean is the Tom Thumb of Central America. Half the territory is covered in jungle, and its shores are home to the world's second largest barrier reef.
In the far south of the country we'll meet Kash, a ranger by profession, but first and foremost, an islander. Revisiting his childhood spent between land and sea, he shares with us his love of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Isabelle, a wildlife veterinarian, has devoted her life to take care of the animals from one end of Belize to the other. She'll take us off the beaten paths to visit her patients.
Whether they're hiding in the jungle or swimming in the sea, they're a varied assortment of surprising creatures. Melito's passion for a river has taken the shape of a voyage. Every month he travels up the Sibun River to make sure that it's not in any danger.
This final link, in a natural corridor from north to south, is his pride and joy, the focus of his life. This river has given me more life than I think I have, because I've been through many things, and I could be dead by now. Well, I call myself dead man, but you know what? The river said, no, I'm not ready for you yet. Go on, you got a mission to accomplish.
I'll give you another chance. From then, I love the river even more. For a long time, Belize has been shrouded in mystery, avoided by the conquistadors. It was not until the 17th century that pirates crossed the reefs and landed on these forbidding shores. A vast expanse of solitude stubbornly resistant to human presence. Isolation is an intrinsic part of the country's identity.
There are countless sanctuaries, reserves, and protected areas. In this realm, nature makes the rules. We're just a few kilometers offshore in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Declared a protected area in 2000, it offers a myriad of islands covered in mangroves.
These plants form a rampart against erosion and are also a haven and breeding ground for a wide variety of animals. They call this spot, the nursery of the Caribbean. Kash knows this maze like the back of his hand. He's been roaming through here as long as he can remember. I had a very special childhood. It's something I'll never forget.
I grew up on an island. I used to walk on the mangrove. I grew up having fun. Just watching birds walking on the mangrove. That was a good feeling. I used to watch the different species living in holes in the mud.
The crabs and other fish living in the mangrove. Far away from the city, it's so quiet, so peaceful. You can't get better than this area. Back in the day, there were a lot more people. They wanted education and jobs. They wanted to uplift themselves.
If you want to stick to nature, this is the place to be, within Port Honduras. There's a spirit here that helps you to have the courage to stay. Kash is the youngest of eight siblings. His mother, a fisherwoman, supported the whole family. She has passed on to him her experience and lore of the islands. [Foreign spoken audio] When we were growing up, we had exciting moments.
I used to always run away from my mom, and she'd think I was going out fishing, or going out somewhere. Yes, sometimes I got a whipping. It was freedom in some way. I think growing up like that did help us actually.
Keeping us away from all the negative things, from bad influences that we have around us. That's the good part of it. In my days, everything was free not like today.
Seeing you pick up and going to catch a fish. You'll catch a lobster. Nobody to tell them, no, you can't do it. However, it's good in one way because everything is done.
We have to protect the areas. It's my life. [Foreign spoken audio] Peace, Joy, especially seeing the water clear. It's more beautiful. It's something very great.
I feel nice about it and I proved to be a fisherwoman. Before laws were enacted to preserve these waters, Port Honduras had long been overexploited. In the 1970s, fishing with nets was widespread in the zone. It was urgent to take action in order to save this haven, sheltering so many species. With this idea in mind, Kash became a ranger.
He lives alone on this spit of land lapped by the waves. To the east, we have Honduras. To the north, we have Mexico. If you go along the coastline and follow it, you will find Chetumal. It goes right up to the Mexican waters. The Barrier Reef joins with the Mexican Barrier Reef.
This is the Gulf of Honduras. All of this that you can see around here. Here, we're at Abalone Quay. This is the ranger station within Port Honduras. Here were in the tower, and from here we can do tower surveillance to monitor the area.
I love the sea and that's the reason why I'm a part of this right now, being a ranger. What you can do within the reserve, you can fish to eat and to sell. However, you're not allowed to use certain methods within the reserve. The reason why I really love the job I'm doing is because I spent all my life here and I want to take care of what is ours.
If we don't take care of it, we will not have it in the future. In his free time, Kash likes to trade his rangers boat for a dory. The traditional craft of the quays as the islands are called in Belize. Port Honduras is now protected, but lobster fishing is authorized a few months a year. No need to go very far.
You can catch them just a few meters off the beaches. Many men who sought refuge on these islands managed to survive thanks to this abundance. The horizon where one can lose oneself and vanish from sight. Belize has been a sanctuary for a number of people shipwrecked by history.
Pirates, fugitives, but also slaves from Africa. Their descendants still perpetuate their music. This is the Garifuna community. Singing is their way of invoking their ancestors. When I was a kid growing up, I used to hear it.
I guess the drums put a spirit in you and you get moving. That's the reason why I just love it. [Foreign spoken audio] However, today's modern world needs landmarks and sentinels. On hunting quay, facing the Barrier Reef, Dando ensures that the lighthouse is always functioning. [Foreign language spoken].
If we do have problems with the lighthouse, it will take about two or three days before I can get help. Our navigations really needs the lighthouse. This is the end of the Barrier Reef and boats come in from Guatemala, Honduras and Belize through this channel that goes out to the Caribbean. This is the most important lighthouse, here in Belize. It's a way of life. I feel more free.
I go wherever I want to. I do what I feel, like going swimming and diving. Then, when I'm here, I feel like I'm somewhere. The Barrier Reef is beautiful. It's more than a treasure, it's a heritage. I want my great-grandson, my great, great, great-grandson, to come and enjoy what I'm enjoying today.
Dando has known Kash since he was a child. Today, he's waiting for him impatiently because he needs his help to keep up the lighthouse. Time is short for nightfall is approaching and the wind is getting stronger.
Kash, why? [Foreign language spoken]. I have a battery here for you. You said you have to change it because you have a problem. [Foreign language spoken]. Thanks, man. Yes, for helping me with this battery.
When I was a kid, we used to go to the lighthouse, and we would dare each other to see who was brave enough to climb up there. The one who'd get up there would say, yes, I'm a man and you are just kids. That made us feel good. Sometimes we would drop down and go hiding from the guys that took care of the lighthouse.
If they saw you, they would yell at you and say, you can't go up. We took those chances as kids. It's something that we really enjoyed.
[Foreign spoken audio] That's rain clouds between Honduras and the mountains. When I go and meet other people from the reserve, it's like a home and a small place for everyone. We help one another and everything. You need something, you get it from me, I need something, I get it from you. That's the way it works all through the islands.
We look out for one another. You can't just go anywhere and trade the same way we do. Here, we work together with a community spirit. Here on the outer limits of this mint-green expanse, isolation brings people together. The elements forge an identity, the soul of the Belize Islanders.
A space outside of time. The San Ignacio region in the west of the country near the Guatemala border is a paradise for those in quest of the absolute jungle as far as the eye can see. Here, everything is a call to adventure. Sinyoti, those are some old teeth. Tapirs are a mixture of horse and rhinoceros.
It's a very old animal and it's actually the only one in its group. There's four different tapir species worldwide. However, this is the Central American species, and it's also the national animal of Belize. Isabelle, a Franco-German veterinarian, landed here eight years ago with her backpack and her very young child. She came to work with the wildlife and is committed to protect endangered species. Here, in Central America, she has found a way of life that corresponds to the ideals she has kept from her somewhat bohemian childhood.
There are many highly motivated people like Isabelle in Belize, working to maintain the equilibrium between the wildlife and the environment, on the land, in the sea, and in the lagoons. There we got him. Hold on.
That's what I would like to know. Chris, Sherry, and Vince take care of American saltwater crocodiles, the most common species in Belize. These reptiles are usually left to live in peace here.
However, in some regions where human activity is more intense, cohabitation can be quite problematic. All right, go ahead and go. Can you believe this, somebody has chopped this animal's tail off. Yes, disgusting. They get about $17 a pound for this. For him to come so quickly for chicken, he's been fed and used to humans.
Obviously, someone coerced him up to come to the bank, gave him some chicken, but then lopped his tail off. We're going to bring him up north, let him go and be a crocodile where there aren't any human beings around and no one to feed him or chop at him. He'll do just fine because his natural diet is fish or raccoons, not chicken. Such severe wounds show that this great predator can also be a victim.
In cases like this one, it's Isabelle who takes over. Hello, -Good, how are you doing? -Good trip. Yes. -Hello. Glad to be here. I'm glad you could make it. That's the guy you caught last night? Yes, this is him.
We're glad that you're here with us too, because its tail has been amputated by a machete. It's great to have a vet here and to help us assess the severity of it. Releasing a crocodile back into the wild is always very moving.
The worldwide population of American crocodiles is estimated at 15,000. Belize is one of the last places where their habitat is still protected. This doesn't really appear to be infected, I don't think.
It was nicely healed until she rubs the surface. Well, this is an exciting moment. We're about to release this girl back into her natural environment without human disturbance, so it's quite exciting. Personally, as a wildlife veterinarian with a passion for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, this is about as good as it can get to be able to bring an animal back out into the wild.
I get to do it all the time. Let it go. One, two, three. The recovery time was pretty quick. That's a very healthy animal. Usually the recovery time when they've been held overnight like this one has, can be quite slow, sometimes up to five minutes.
The profession is often very rough and very difficult. For example, the moment of getting to release an animal that we've been able to heal back into the wild or an animal that we have bred and rehabilitated to go back out, that is truly the biggest reward and makes me feel like we achieve some sort of harmony. Belize is a really small world. There are about 340,000 inhabitants in six major cities. Our capital Belmopan with the last count being 6000 people living there, which made it the smallest capital in the world. It really adds to the lifestyle in Belize and makes it everybody knows everybody and the whole country is all like a small village.
We're about to drive through Barton Creek, which is a Mennonite community. The Mennonites are a religious group that came from the Protestants, they originated in Europe, and they left Europe about 250 years ago because they're basically pacifists. They did not want to join the military and they have moved a little bit all over the world.
I grew up in the countryside in Germany and then in the countryside in Paraguay for two years, which for some reason has left a lifelong impact of wanting to go back to the simplicity of life that we had there, where I could take my horse to school. We came to Belize and we stayed. I cannot see myself living in a city, in a concrete jungle at all. There are very few things on this planet that would take me away from here, and it would have to be closely related to conservation. Nature is my church.
That's where I go to get new energy and recharge. The Tamandua was found as a baby after a flood. She was orphaned. There was no mother around and she was flushed down the river.
They raised her from a baby with the goal to release her once she is ready to be released. They are very specialized animals and they eat ants and termites, and it takes five or 6 hours per day for them to get enough time to get enough food. They're very labor intensive. We're just looking to see what she does. Basically, she looks like a normal tamandua and if she can find her food and that looks pretty normal.
I love the daily challenges. It never gets boring. You have to constantly improvise and figure out how to deal with a new situation compared to a normal veterinarian and normal veterinary practice where after a couple of months you've seen most of what you're going to see every day and it quickly gets boring. My work does never get boring. If you ever had to restrain her, we would grab her by her front legs because that's what she would use to defend herself. What you saw a little earlier when she did this, that was really good to see, because we want her not to like humans.
Mission accomplished and Isabelle is already back on the road. Vince and Sheri have called her in again. This time, the crew is planning a night rescue. We're going to try and capture the two crocodiles that have been deemed problematic and or because of future development from this area down south. Once we capture both crocodiles, which we believe to be a mating pair, we're going to bring them up north by boat, and we'll probably come out here and go off onto these mangrove areas where there are no people and no development.
We can't go that far anyways. That's the further we can go. The further up you go, the better off it's going to be. You go too far but we don't want to enter Mexico. How far is Mexico? About 20 miles, actually. Belize is a paradise for people like me wanting to work in conservation because we still have 60 percent of the country covered in native forest.
We have a humongous biodiversity here. A lot of the problems that I saw in the US or in other places before, was illegal trade. Once we see a wild animal in Europe or in the US, there is no way we can bring it back.
One of my goals or missions in life was to work on site in one of these developing countries where we still have biodiversity and nature left. All the eye shining you see that are orange in color, we know that this is a crocodile staring at us right now. He can hear us, smell us, see us, and sense us. He got a headdress down there somewhere.
I can't see the head. I have a tip of a tail here. The midbody is right here, she is blocked from turning around. Her head's right there.
Okay, wait. Coming towards you now. Right up in there.
Go to go to another corner. Hold on, she's coming up. Let it go. No, I'm telling Vince to give you slack. I've got it.
All right, too late. Got it, you can hold on. You can't taper her. You got to let her expel some of that water. That sucked. Good job.
Thank you. This is from a croc fight. It's a hell of a gash. She will heal rather quickly.
Crocodiles have an enormous capacity to heal, and it's really as much, not as it looks like a big gash. It's a minor wound for her. Adrenaline is working on me, too. Believe me, if she starts moving and shaking and I fear that Chris is losing control, I will be out of this area within a split second.
Living intense experiences in close contact with the Wild Kingdom. Here in Belize, Isabelle's dream comes alive again with each new day. Here in the midst of the Maya mountains is the birthplace of a river renowned for its purity, the Sibun.
It winds its way through a dense jungle, and Melito has made it his mission to protect it. Sibun is my life. When I was born, my neighbor String went in the Sibun River. The Sibun River has this thing in me that I must be there.
I must swim in it every day. I must drink from it every day. That's how special the Sibun River is to me. I used to have a job, a permanent job for ten years. I felt something in me that was holding me back. I didn't really know what it was until I spent more time in the river and then I could feel, you know what? This is it.
This is my dream right here. This is what I wanted in my life, to be on that river. Any time, anywhere, I'll stick with the river.
I call myself as a river man by taking my own responsibilities to go on that river. There are like 12 different communities along that river that needs to know what's up upstream. I travel once a month, and I go around checking everything. Recently, we had some floods, and so I'm going to go check out the river and see if I can see some good stuff on the river. This solitary voyage has become as vital as breathing for Melito. Meandering up the Sibun, he's also making a trip back in time and revisiting his culture.
Everything in this setting reminds him of who he is and where he comes from. [Foreign spoken audio] We will go visit that right now and check those big buttresses. This Ceiba tree is about 120 years old. My ancestors still leave something to let me know that yes, they existed back in the day. The other thing is, not a lot of big trees were left in Belize. Most of our big trees have gone down the river, cut down by loggers.
When we see such a big tree, we praise it because it's wonderful to see it again. I am mixed with the Mopan-Maya and the Mopan-Maya is one of the strongest Mayan in Belize. Mayans once used the cave for sacrifice. They would come into the cave, have a big circle, a bonfire, and they will have a little dance first, one of the Mayan cultural things.
Right after that, they have a big sacrifice. Even today, the Mayans show great respect for the dead. They still practice their rituals in caves, but the forms have changed. They use the cave for storage because sometimes the areas where the Mayans used to live, get flooded. There are a lot of different levels in caves and so they always use the highest one. Again here, they have a God that they call the Xibalba, which they believe that took their ancestors to heaven.
That's why we have a sacred tree that's named the Ceiba, which is a sacred tree of the Mayans. What happens is the roots of that big tree is up out there in the outer world and the roots push down through the cave to the underworld. When they do their sacrifice, they believe that the ancestors go through that route, straight to the trunks and through the branches to the heavens. The Sibun is the only source of drinking water for the villages along its banks. Melito plays the role of messenger for the river dwellers. Hello, good afternoon.
[Foreign spoken audio] Is Mr. John around? Yes, Mr.John. [Foreign spoken audio] What's up, man? Long time, man. -Yeah, man.
[Foreign spoken audio] Good to see you again. Nice to see you too, man. What's up, man? Any report or any news that I need to know about the river? Well, you can see it's kind of filthy and a bit dirty. I remember a nice flood passed through this place. The last flood came and we trip on top of the bank. I almost get into my mom's house about eight inches to enter her house.
On top of the hill? Yes. -Oh, my goodness. That's why you guys build your house off for the thing. Yes, that's a huge flood. That's a big one, man. In this region, the rains and hurricanes are continually reshaping the landscape.
Each expedition is a new adventure for Melito. Ed Balls is a hydrographer specialized in river systems. He's been monitoring the ecosystem of Belize's rivers for the past 30 years. For him, the Sibun occupies a choice place among the rivers on account of its exceptional purity. He likes to keep a finger on the pulse of the river and capture its every mood. I first came to Belize in 1980 before Belize was Belize.
Over the years I fell in love with Belize as I returned and then by 1988, I found a way to move here. I was working to build a research center in the Mountain Pine Ridge, and ultimately I moved from there to the university and to other jobs. Also, I was trying to escape the US.
I was tired of paying my taxes that would go to promote a war industry. I would rather come to a country that doesn't promote war. [Foreign spoken audio] How are you doing? So what's the river like up there? It's beautiful like always. We got a healthy river right here too, you can check out those fish. Nice man. -Come on I show you what I'm doing. Did you do any sampling lately? I am about to get started. -Wow.
I just wanted to get a sketch of the area just for the notebook. How is the forest in the spine of bamboo and stuff like that? Still holding on or... It's still holding on, but it's thin. There need to be more trees coming in. However, I see some young trees coming through.
All right. I think that we're going to see this area grow to full size in a few years. Do you think we should be planting some trees on the riverside? I think it wouldn't hurt at all. We can get some students involved in that. All right, evenly I can put the seeds together. I've got trees growing in my nursery.
Do that and save some for us at the University too. All right, definitely. -Before the sun gets any lower. All right, man. Put a few rocks on the edge of that right here. I'm looking for that watershed that you took me to a few years back. Do you remember how to get there? Yes, man. -Do you think you could take me again?
I would love to get up there and do some sampling. We could definitely do that. It's right around this area right here, man.
It's a great spot with a big waterfall. How soon can we go? Tomorrow. -All right, let's do it. We'll be there tomorrow. Traveling together is a deep moment of rapport for these two men who share a fascination for the same river. I feel so many emotions here. There's certainly a sense of freedom of the ability to just kind of be yourself on the riverbank.
However, there's also something about a flowing water system that just massages the creative vibes in your body. It's the relaxation of the water and the incredible diversity of the fish and the wildlife associated with the river. I don't know what heaven feels like, but this sure feels like heaven to me. I'm always happy when I'm at the Sibun River. I don't even want to go back to my house. I just want to remain here and spend as much time at the river as I could.
It's just rivers. I can't stay away from it, it's too special. Well, this is the trail that we're going to take from here.
Nice, we will stream in. Yes, man. Just check that wall of files, man, beautiful. It is. Isn't that great? It's more beautiful than I remember.
Look how it's beautiful, I like to see those mists coming out of there. There are many places like this magnificent waterfall that are undiscovered by most people. Belize is such a small country and it has so many natural wonders. It takes a long time to see all of Belize.
It's so spread out. Belize, being part of the Central American isthmus is a very important part of the movement of animals from the north and plants from the north and the south. This is where they meet. This is the second most diverse place in the world. Wow, even better. -Yes.
All right, Melito. [Foreign spoken audio] I like iguanas. They're one of the best reptiles I ever met, because I can't play with a crocodile like I play with an iguana. Males are huge.
The females are much smaller, much softer, and it's easier to play with. However, the big males who are too big, you hold them, but it's like a big monster in your hand. I love playing with them and what amazes me is their tail. That different color, that black and orange tail. It's like somebody painted it. The first time I've seen an iguana, I was scared of it.
Again, I said man, I shouldn't be scared of that. I saw my brothers hold it, so I said, it won't hurt me either, so I go and hold it too. They don't bite. Wow, it's a big one. It's a big iguana. It's nice going out there.
Let me try and take a shot. Hopefully, I will hit it. Yes, it's a very nice pet. I love iguanas.
They're very cool. Really, the wild things should be harassing. Like moving all the time, but this one, no. You can pick them up anywhere, hold them like a baby, take a shot. You could do anything with him.
You could put them on your shoulder. This is a male. We could tell it's a male by this big bulge here. It's nice. When I go out to town, I'm miserable.
I see too many people, I'm miserable. I see my river and I see birds, I see everything and I'm happy. In a way, in my life, that's what I dreamed of. To be a riverkeeper, to get on this river and have a good time and a life. The life that I was looking for, I have it right now. I am glad and thankful for it.
My family is the one that actually got me in this by tagging me along. I have five big brothers who are fishermen. They love the Sibun River. My dad is a farmer from the Sibun River. They show me how to fish.
They show me how to catch an iguana. They show me how to catch an armadillo and some of them show me even how to catch snakes. It links up and links up and drops right to me.
I'm the last born of the family. Now I guess I have to do my part. I pick this spot all the time because it's a great spot and a great place to fish. You could just stand right here beside the campfire, throw your fishing line in there, and just catch a fish. Right down there, there are big tarpons, there are snappers, all sorts of fish down here. For me, it's life.
This river has given me more life than I think I have. I've been through many things and I could be dead by now. Well, I call myself dead man, but you know what? The river said, no, I'm not ready for you yet.
Go on, you got a mission to accomplish. I'll give you another chance. From then, I love the river even more. If I can live a thousand years, I'll be right here in this river. Never going to change it.
This is the story of Melito and of an entire country, Belize. Where the murmuring of the rivers is a message of peace to man.