The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center is "a disaster" zone now, according to director Sharon Matola, who reports that the 29-acre zoo sustained a direct hit from Hurricane Richard on Oct. 24th.
(This severely damaged king vulture enclosure was once as tall as a 2-story building.)
Before the hurricane, Fodor's Travel praised the zoo as being "one of the smallest, but arguably one of the best, zoos in the world."
The small Belize Zoo is the latest over the past few decades to have experienced extensive damage after natural or manmade events. The Baghdad Zoo wound up on the front lines of war in Iraq. Mortar rounds and tanks released many zoo animals, but the main damage happened later when looters came through and stole the exotic animals. Its story is told in this video.
The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans was forced to temporarily shut its doors after Hurricane Katrina, and has been recovering ever since. (During the hurricane, staff found refuge in the zoo's reptile house, which was apparently designed to withstand a major hurricane.)
We previously told you about a tiny zoo in Haiti that was impacted by the Caribbean country's 7.0 earthquake in January of this year. At the time, the future of the zoo, located at Fermathe, Haiti, was in question. More recent visitor reports suggest some animals died, but that the Haiti zoo is still standing, with peacocks, rabbits and a handful of other animals on exhibit.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed the Wings of Asia aviary at Zoo Miami, toppled over 5,000 trees there and caused other damage, forcing the zoo to also temporarily close and gradually rebuild.
The Belize Zoo appears to be going down a similar path now, but its fate is still in question.
"Hurricane Richard did a number on the zoo," Matola said. "We are closed for repairs and renovations and probably will not be able to re-open until December. Thankfully, none of the animals were injured or escaped, but our facility has been hit hard."
The animals survived the hurricane by staying in small shelters in each enclosure. These became their homes while the staff raced to clear the debris and repair the fences.
(Matola on a giant Ceiba tree that fell on a jaguar enclosure during the hurricane)
"The zoo is what we call a disaster state right now," Matola continued. "We are working really hard every day to see that we will be open on the 1st of December. And it's not going to look like this; it’s going to be a new and dynamic zoo."
She and her colleagues are asking for donations at this website to make that rebuilding goal a reality.
(Before and After the hurricane shots of the zoo's puma exhibit)