Thank you so much for your ongoing well-wishes for Beliza as she undergoes cancer treatment. She continues to thrive, and the community’s generous support toward her care has been heart-warming. Today we thought we’d share more about her role in the bigger picture. Animals like Beliza are amazing creatures, and the connections they help our visitors forge with the natural world are essential to our mission here at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden. When Amazonia opened in 2008, we decided that donations made by guests in that area of the zoo would be passed on to conservation projects benefitting South American species, and we’d like to highlight a couple of those projects.
Panthera is one of the conservation organizations we’ve donated to over the years. Their work is focused on researching and helping populations of wild felids around the world, from sand cats in the Moroccan Sahara to tigers in Thailand. Recently, they have been helping to fight fires in the Brazilian Pantanal, a prime area of jaguar habitat, and their Jaguar Corridor Initiative seeks to preserve habitat along the jaguar’s home range from Mexico all the way down to Argentina, in order to promote genetic diversity in the species. We have also sent funds to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a preserved area of native jaguar habitat in Belize. With support from Mesker Park and other zoological institutions, they have been able to hire rangers to help keep jaguars safe from poachers.
The common goal of these conservation organizations is to combat the biggest threats to jaguars in their native habitat, including human conflict (like poaching) and habitat loss due to deforestation. These beautiful cats have lost 40% of their historic home range, which at one time included the southwestern Unites States! The beauty of donating to these projects is that although they’re targeting a large charismatic cat like the jaguar, entire ecosystems reap the benefits. These include thousands of plant and animal species, including many of those you may have seen during a visit to Amazonia: Forest of Riches. Some of these may not garner much public sympathy and support on their own, but benefit from jaguar habitat conservation. Likewise, when we donate funds to projects designed to help blue-throated macaws, Panamanian golden frogs, or tapirs, as we have in recent years, we can help jaguars indirectly as well. During this pandemic, it’s sometimes hard to think about the threats facing the natural world because of all the stress in our day-to-day lives. But even if you don’t feel like you can contribute financially toward these efforts, small changes in your life here at home can help native wildlife around the world. Skip the straw, recycle everything you can, eat sustainably-harvested seafood, and try to reduce your carbon footprint to help fight the climate change that is contributing to things like forest fires in Brazil – it’s a beautiful time of year to bike or walk to work! Together we can make a difference and help combat further declines in populations of jaguars, and honor amazing ambassadors like Beliza who help us appreciate the wonder of these species.
— Dr. Carrie Ullmer