Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Look Up!

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that when I was running around the farm this morning taking pictures of flowers, I never looked up to see that our Cortes tree was in its once-a-year state of beauty. We now have nine of these photos, and find its beauty breathtaking every year. 

Hot + Dry = Flowers?!?

In the north, we associate flowers with spring. Here, they bloom when it gets hot and dry. These photos were all taken this morning on the grounds of Moonracer Farm. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Gibnut Roundup

A couple of years after we moved to Moonracer Farm, we were given four gibnuts, also known as pacas, to keep in one of cages on the property. The original idea was that we would breed them - there were three females and a male - and the babies could of be used for future breeding stock or, if we had a surplus, for meat, thinking that if people could buy the meat perhaps it would help with the overhunting of the species that is a problem here in Belize. 

A couple of years after we got them, we had three babies.  Unlike many rodents, gibnuts only have one or two babies at a time, and they grow very slowly, not reaching adulthood for a year or more.  Then the original male died, but we thought one of the babies was a male, so we just left them in the cage, hoping we would have more babies when the first batch matured.  They were mature three or four years ago, and we never had any more babies.  

The Belize Zoo has now decided that a captive breeding program is a good idea since the wild gibnut population is dwindling due to overhunting, and they were gifted with a young female found by someone in one of the villages along the Hummingbird Highway.  Sharon Matola, director of the Belize Zoo, knew of our gibnuts and asked if we would be willing to donate any of them, especially a male, for this project.  Since their goals are the same as our goals, we were delighted to try to help.

Sharon and Berto came out to Moonracer a couple of weeks ago to meet our pack of pacas, and to drop off animal carriers and discuss a strategy to get gibnuts from Moonracer to the Zoo. Since our original females are now pretty old, probably past breeding age, we decided that we would keep them and send the younger ones off to the Zoo, especially Munchkin, the one we thought was a male.  We put the animal carriers in the gibnut cage with the doors open, and I started feeding them in the cages.  Being relatively tame already, they very quickly started going in the carriers to get food, so I contacted Sharon and Berto and arranged a drop off day at the Zoo, which was just two days ago.

On Tuesday morning, I went out to feed them like normal, but with Tom along as well.  This wasn't strange to the gibnuts, because although I usually do the day to day care, when our guests want to see them, Tom is usually the one to take the guests into the cage, and he gives them treats.  We positioned ourselves near the carriers, and I put some especially tasty morsels into the carriers. The gibnuts didn't come out immediately, but within about five minutes Scarfy, one of the old females, and then Munchkin, came out of their holes and started taking food from the carriers.  

We stayed still and let them nibble their way into two different carriers.  Munchkin was closer to me, and when he had three legs in, Tom said "Now!"  I slammed the door, and he exploded.  Gibnuts can move very fast, and he was not happy.  Scarfy disappeared back into one of her holes.  We waited a few minutes to let Munchkin calm down and see if any of the others would come out, but although Minchie did get calm, the others were spooked and we didn't see them again.

We loaded the crate in the back of the pickup, and headed for the Zoo.  

Munchie was growling every time we checked on him, but seemed okay.  When we got to the Zoo, Berto and Tim took the carrier to Munchie's new home, nicknamed the honeymoon suite since he would be sharing it with Cuddles, the young female.  The enclosure, not in the public part of the Zoo, was divided so the two gibnuts could get to know each other without fighting.  Munchie was happy to get out of the carrier and explore the new enclosure.

Then came the bad news - Berto, who knows more about gibnuts than Tom or I, said he is pretty sure Munchie is a female!  Oh no!  But, we talked about it, and talked with Sharon, and decided that we would leave her there anyway as part of the program, and still try to catch the other two, who Tom and I are pretty sure are females.  That would explain why we never had any babies after the male died.

Before we left the backside of the Zoo, Berto and Tim took us to meet Cuddles, and let us hold her.  

That was a great, because we have intentionally not handled ours...we don't want them to be too easy to catch if we ever forget and leave the door unlocked.  We were both surprised by how solid Cuddles is, and how bristly her coat is.  She didn't seem to mind being held, but after a few good rubs we put her down and went with Berto to enjoy a delicious lunch at the Zoo's cafe. 

Our next step is to catch the other youngsters, which could take a bit of effort since they are not as friendly as Munchie.  But we will try!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Back to caving

After a two year break working on a conservation project in the Mountain Pine Ridge, a few more months helping family in the US, and then another couple of months getting settled, we are back up and running at Moonracer Farm!  In our absence, the place was beautifully run by Julio and Janeth, but we are looking forward to getting our own hands dirty and rebuilding the business, which slowed down because we weren’t paying attention to promoting it in Belize’s changing tourism industry.

Speaking of getting our hands dirty, we took some time out yesterday to explore a local cave which neither we nor the property owner had ever investigated beyond the entrance room.  Access to the cave has been difficult in the past, with ladders and ropes necessary to get from the rock opening to the floor of the entrance room.  The property owner has just recently taken the time (perfect for our return!) to create a ladder/stair structure that makes it relatively easy to get into the cave.  So, we decided to go exploring.

We only explored a small fraction of what we believe lies in the Maya underworld inside this cave, but what we saw was impressive.  Like most caves in Belize, pot sherds are everywhere, and some are parts of what must have been very large pots. 

The rock formations are stunning, and at points the entire cave sparkled in the light of our headlamps. 

 The cave is also home to lots of bats, who mostly hung out on the walls, but would occasionally take flight and flutter through the very large rooms of the cave.

The parts of the cave we explored were very large and open rooms.  While we had to scramble over rocks, slide down a few dirt and mud slides, and occasionally duck through a small tunnel, it was pretty easy going where we went.  However, we decided to save one large cavern for another day, and we peeked down plenty of cracks and smaller holes that undoubtedly lead to more rooms, and decided to save them for another day as well.  We have heard of experienced cavers getting lost in this cave, and while we have enough experience to know to do things like wear hardhats, carry water and extra batteries, and mark where we are going, we are going to do a little more planning before venturing further into this underworld adventure.  It’s just one more thing to add to our very long Belize Adventure To-Do list.