THE WILDLIFE INSTITUTE
The Wildlife Institute (WI) is a U.S. based veterinary study abroad provider offering veterinary and conservation-related courses, internships and tourism products with international conservation partners. WI’s mission is to support wildlife conservation through education and travel. The Wildlife Institute was founded in the US in 2011 along-side the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic (BWRC) by Justin Ford MSc. (Ecological Manager) and Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand (Wildlife Veterinarian). Justin Ford is the general educational and development programs director at WI, while Dr. Isabelle provides free veterinary care to wildlife at BWRC.
The Wildlife Institute provides support to its wildlife conservation partners in Belize and the region through educational services, tourism development and a LDC scholarship program for promising wildlife vets/vet students from developing countries. WI expands its range and reach as it continues to develop veterinary study abroad and tourism services. Help WI make a difference. Join WI for a course, internship or an insider’s tour that supports Wildlife Medicine & Conservation. And contact program director Justin Ford firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about joining us in Belize.
BELIZE & CENTRAL AMERICA
Belize and Northern Central America is a conservation hot-spot. Approximately 40% of Belize is under protection; by far the largest percentage in the least populous country in Central America. Neighboring Guatemala and Mexico also conserve large areas of lowland tropical forest. This means that there is a lot to protect. Threats from population growth, human-wildlife conflict, the illicit pet trade, illegal resource extraction and international incursions are increasing. Belize is endowed with the largest living barrier reef in the world, and the largest contiguous forest in the region. In the heart of the Neo-Tropics, the region harboring the highest concentration of Bio-diversity in the world, conservation in the region is of critical global importance. Wildlife Institute interns and students visit the region in the spirit of conservation, and to learn. It is a testament to Belize that the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic and Wildlife Institute interns have returned repeatedly; to continue the work they started through a course or internship and to continue to give back to a country and region full of promise and hope.
While you are in Belize and the region, you will have the opportunity to see nature free of human impact; corals, rain forests, wildlife, and stunning scenery. But you will also see nature in retreat. The realities of a developing country can be harsh and shocking at times. Central America presents great contrasts; at once a peaceful, democratic nations racing toward development; and an backdrop for unsustainable growth. The areas where we work are last regional strongholds for wildlife; and much help is needed. The Wildlife Institute exists to provide a direct benefit to the organizations working to conserve the region’s wildlife and protected areas; made possible by governmental and non-governmental communities, and educational partners around the world.
One of the most adrenalin-filled experiences I’ve ever taken part in
I felt as though I was part of the community
I took part in the Wildlife Medicine and Conservation Course with the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic following my first year of vet school. I was able to see and experience the treatment of wildlife, try new medical techniques, learn a lot about conservation in the face of human animal conflict and work with some truly inspiring individuals. Justin met me and the other students at the airport and shuttled us directly to lunch and then to our housing for the next 10 days. This set the tone for the ease of transportation and housing of the course. We were driven everywhere that we needed to go and were housed at the cutest compound where we had apartments and locally prepared breakfasts every morning. The compound was within walking distance to downtown San Ignacio where we got dinner every night that we were in town. The course coordinators were more than happy to suggest great local restaurants.
During the course, many of the days were spent at the BWRC. Here we were able to help with treatments of hospitalized animals and visit rehabilitating animals in the reserve where they are prepared for release. We were able to conduct several necropsies, discuss many past cases, and review parasitology, radiology, anesthesia calculations, and wildlife disease. There were also many trips within the course that allowed us to see many parts of this beautiful country. We visited the Belize Zoo where we learned about the importance of community education in regards to the value and importance of indigenous species. We toured the Community Baboon Sanctuary where they have implemented a unique conservation strategy- utilizing the community to preserve crucial Howler Monkey habitat. We also helped bathe iguanas at the Belize Iguana Project in order to treat and prevent bacterial, fungal or parasitic growth. Our class was fortunate enough to take a trip to Wildtracks, a manatee and primate rehabilitation center, and help with the capture and relocation of two white tailed deer. Here we were able to learn about and experience the veterinary principles associated with wildlife relocation and treat a Manatee with a pneumothorax. We were also able to experience Sarteneja and received an excellent lion fish dinner. The last day of the trip we were able to visit the Caye Caulker. We spent the day sunbathing and snorkeling around the island. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
I have so many great experiences and stories from my trip to Belize with the Wildlife and Conservation Course. I learned a lot about veterinary medicine, conservation, and human-animal conflict in the third world. The people and animals that I was honored enough to meet during this trip were so kind and helpful and inspiring that I would not hesitate to return. Although I was only there for a matter of days, I felt as though I was part of the community. I ate the best stewed chicken with beans and rice or rice and beans (which are different dishes), still crave the fresh lime juice, and remain in awe of the people that do so much for these animals with so little help. So go. Make your own wonderful memories and stories. When else will you ride of a boat with an anesthetized deer, bathe iguanas, treat a manatee, meet a baby kinkajou, watch the retired residents of San Ignacio attempt to Wobble, and be immersed in a new culture? Of course every experience is a little different, these are wild animals after all.
Sarah Camp – University of Georgia, DVM Candidate, Class of 2018
An unforgettable experience
My collaboration with Dr. Isabelle and the BWRC for the last several years has been a wonderful and exciting experience, particularly exploring and contributing vital data and ideas to the field of crocodilian parasitology, which is still in its infancy. Given Dr. Isabelle’s innovative and professional work ethic in relation to crocodilian veterinary practices, I have nominated and identified her as one of the principal crocodilian veterinarians in Central America by the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group’s Veterinary Science Group. Any student or intern who gets an opportunity to work with Dr. Isabelle and the BWRC will definitely have an unforgettable experience that will give them a strong foundation in the field of wildlife veterinary science with a true leader in the field.
Dr. Marisa Tellez – Co-founder of Crocodile Research Coalition – IUCN/SSC- Crocodile Specialist Group’s Vice Regional Chair of Latin America
It is engaging, thought-provoking and brimming with new experiences
My first exposure to the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC) was as a first year veterinary student. I have always had an interest in both wildlife medicine and international work, and the BWRC offered an opportunity for me to experience these together for the first time. I’ve never looked back. My time at the BWRC first as a student and then as a teaching assistant changed my life, personally and professionally. Not only did I learn about the care and management of wild animals I had never even seen before, but I also learned about the benefits and challenges of working in a developing country. Dr. Isabelle and Justin have put together a well-rounded program that does a fantastic job of incorporating the important aspects of caring for wildlife in Central America. It is engaging, thought-provoking and brimming with new experiences, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the field.
Dr. Nicki Rosenhagen – Former Intern, Student and T/A – DVM Wildlife Medical Clinic, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
The animals were unlike anything I have ever experienced
My time at BWRC was truly unforgettable. The animals that I got to work with were unlike anything I have ever experienced. From tubing a red tail boa constrictor to performing surgery on crocodiles, my whole externship at BWRC was very hands-on. I was able to put into practice skills that I learned in veterinary school. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Isabelle for the support, encouragement, and advice that she provided me during my time in Belize. Her passion for wildlife conservation is truly remarkable! Justin and the entire staff at the clinic were tremendously helpful and made me feel like part of the family. I could not have asked for a better place to do my externship, and I would highly recommend spending time at BWRC!
Lauren Szalach – Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2016
Experiences that would never have been possible in the United States
The month I spent in Belize was one of the most inspirational and fulfilling months of my life. I started out doing the Wildlife and Conservation Course and stayed for an internship of an additional two weeks. As a pre-veterinary student, I did not expect to do as much as I did, especially when there were veterinary students in my program with a year of vet school under their belts. I got to learn and participate in everything the vet students were doing, and that was something that really made this experience worthwhile. During the course, I handled and helped medicate animals I had never gotten to work with before, such as iguanas, kinkajous, foxes, and even a boa constrictor. I was lucky enough to also help with the surgery of a baby howler monkey’s tail! During our visit to Guatemala, I also got to restrain and medicate scarlet macaws, some of the country’s most endangered species. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. In a country full of beautiful wildlife and its own conservation challenges, I learned about what there is to do and what future veterinarians can help with. Dr. Isabelle herself has an amazing and inspiring story. Her passion for her patients and her job is contagious, and it was an honor to work under her guidance. She and my participation in this program helped cement my interest in wildlife medicine and strengthened my focus on conservation.
I wish my internship lasted longer, because every day felt like a new learning experience packed with new animals and new medical cases. While the course provided daily lectures and activities, the internship allowed more observation and assistance in day to day clinic work – something I was eager to help with. The interns helped with a mixture of domestic animals as well as any wildlife emergencies that came in. This way, I learned how to take and read x-rays, practiced taking a pulse on a variety of animals (including a crocodile!), cared for a variety of animals, and exercised a snake! I even was taken on a special trip outside of the clinic to work with scarlet macaws again, which I loved.
All in all, I fell in love with Belize and the incredible wildlife that inhabits it. I made lifelong friends in my 4 weeks there and gained experiences that would never have been possible in the United States. I feel so grateful to have gotten this opportunity! For more details on what I did during my time at BWRC, check out the blog posts I wrote during my time there.
Agnes Galej – Yale University Pre-vet 2017
Unique combination of veterinary medicine and conservation work
Last summer (2015) I had the honor to stay in Belize for about 2 months as an intern/TA for BWRC and the Wildlife Institute, and I also participated in the Scarlet Macaw Guardian Program. It was a unique combination of veterinary medicine and conservation work, with adventure and fun thrown in as well! The BWRC was amazing being able to work with species such as crocodiles, kinkajous, and howler monkeys to domestic dogs and cats. I learned so much from Dr. Isabelle. Not only is she an outstanding wildlife vet, but she also is an orthopedic surgeon! It was such a privilege working on a few such surgeries with her. I learned skills that I needed to use during my third year surgery program in veterinary school as well. As for the Scarlet Macaw Guardian Program, words cannot describe how wonderful that experience was. I will never forget the trip down the river with beautiful jungle on either side of the banks and stunning (and very loud) Scarlet Macaws flying free. I had only ever seen them in zoos or pet shops before, but this is where they truly belong. My part in this story was to help raise chicks that had been in the most at-risk nests for poaching. I am so happy that the chicks I helped feed and care for have now been released and are flying free! We also had the opportunity to help with field work, performing exams on all chicks and taking samples for research purposes. I met so many great wildlife and conservation heroes on this trip, from Dr. Isabelle to Boris of FCD, and Dr. LoraKim. They have to fight so many battles, and they deserve all the support we can give. I will never forget my time in Belize and the life-long friends I made. I hope I can come back someday!
Katherine Roehl – University of Wisconsin College of Veterinary Medicine, 2017
Never felt like an outsider
Greetings from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine! My name is Wendy Parker and I am a member of the UTCVM class of 2018. I have participated in the Wildlife Institute’s wildlife medicine and conservation course in the winter of 2015/2016. I was fortunate to receive 2 credit hours for this course at UT and as of next winter (winter 2016/2017), UTCVM will be offering the Wildlife Institutes course as a registered course for all UTCVM students. As an avid travel and (Obviously) someone who loves animals, I knew that I would want to spend all of free time both traveling and working with animals, so I took to the Internet searching for something that could meet my needs. I have never been afraid to try new things, and so once the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic showed up in my search results, I was hooked. I knew taking on this opportunity would mean that I would be going to be spending time with other students I had never met. This can be a little scary, but I love to meet knew people and knew this would be a great opportunity. This course was better than I could have ever imagined. Not only did I get to work with many different species, it also gave me opportunities to travel and learn both about veterinary medicine and Belize as a country. For those who may not speak any other languages, this is the perfect course for you because Belize is a country that already speaks English. I know for some of my other fellow vet students that were there, that was comforting for them knowing that. Any nervousness I had about being with 9 other girls I’ve never met was washed away that first night we spent in Belize. All the girls were wonderful people and the staff and helpers for BWRC were welcoming and kind. I never felt like an outsider, I was simply part of the team the moment I arrived! Dr. Isabelle has a great outlook on life that I think many veterinary students would benefit from experiencing and listening to. I would be more than happy to speak with anyone in regards to the trip and its authenticity. I want to thank BWRC for having me, and I hope to return soon!
Wendy Parker – University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, 2018
One of the main reasons I am now in veterinary school
The Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC) was one of my first international veterinary experiences as an undergraduate student. Dr. Isabelle, Justin and everyone that worked at the clinic during my time there were truly inspirational. I was able to learn about veterinary medicine in domestic and wildlife animals while experiencing a different culture than my own. The BWRC opened my eyes to the human, animal and environmental interface, known as One Health, in a developing country. My experience was one of the main reasons I am now in veterinary school and have a passion for One Health and international travel. I am extremely grateful for the BWRC and the knowledge it gave me to pursue my own dream. I look forward to working with Dr. Isabelle and the clinic in my future.
Taylor Calloway – UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 2018
Justin and Dr. Isabelle were so involved with my learning experience
The time I spent at the BWRC was invaluable, indescribable, and in every aspect, life changing. How could I even begin to describe my internship when words fall so short of my actual experience? The BWRC not only gave me an insight to veterinary medicine in a way that no other internship has given me, but also an indescribable feeling of camaraderie for which Belize now feels like my second home. Justin and Dr. Isabelle were so involved with my learning experience, making sure that I was absorbing every bit of information, answering all my questions, and having the time of my life. While other veterinary internships I’ve been involved with merely had me observe and standby, Dr. Isabelle and the BWRC had me truly be engaged with the entirety of the process. I was the one administering vaccinations, catching and handling the animals, doing the x-rays, overlooking anesthesia, sitting on a crocodile during surgery, and so much more. It was the most hands on I could have been as an intern, with their guidance and patience leading me in any direction I chose to go. Of course, being within the field of wildlife, the days are unpredictable where you don’t know how the day will go or what you’ll get. However, at the end of the day, I feel as though that’s the best part of the experience, that’s what makes it so real. One day you could be getting only domestic cases, but the next you have an emergency howler monkey coming in or boa constrictor or even a manatee. The stochastic nature of working with wildlife and especially working with wildlife in a developing country calls for ingenuity, strength, patience, and heart. All of which I’ve seen and experienced working with everyone at the BWRC. It was never, “hey this is too chaotic for you to be here” but more so “how can we as a team work together to save this animal, solve this problem, build this better?” It was the most real and involved situation I could have been in, and for which I have utilized the knowledge I’ve gained from working at the BWRC over and over again. The BWRC felt more like my family than just an organization. They were involved with my academic, career, and personal growth, and still are part of my life today. I honestly don’t know how the direction of my life would have gone if I hadn’t worked at the BWRC, and I am so eternally grateful to have been with them. All I’ve seen since my time there is improvement and growth, and for anyone presented with the opportunity to work with them, I give my highest recommendation to do so.
Helen Sung – UCLA Pre-vet, 2014
Great place to hone your skills in wildlife medicine and conservation
I wanted to say how awesome is Belize Wildlife & Referral clinic and its partner non-profit organization Wildlife institute, based on my experience for 30 days of working as a volunteer veterinarian with them. I have been passionate about travelling from childhood and always wanted to spend my time off as work-cation in different parts of the world. I am fortunate enough to be a veterinarian and getting chance to work with Dr.Isabelle and Justin in Belize. Both of them have been working hard for noble cause – treating wildlife and abandoned animals in Belize by partnering with several local rescue and educational groups from all over the world.
I learned a lot about wildlife medicine from Dr. Isabelle. She is truly a passionate veterinarian, working hard by educating students and public for ecosystem balance, rescuing and treating several wildlife species that are at the verge of extinction in some parts of Central America. She was very helpful and knowledgeable about common problems seen in wildlife and developing better treatment protocols to save their lives.
Justin, is a knowledge mine (Like a gold mine) and very inspiring human being that I have met in my life! His travelling adventures are so inspiring and thoughtful about life. Very passionate about doing something different that benefits society and future generations. He is genuinely interested towards teaching students and empowering them. Learned a lot about Guatemala conservation projects from him while visiting ARCAS. It is a great place for any pre-vet or veterinary students to hone their skills in wildlife medicine and conservation. Based on my experiences, I am very confident to say that it will be a wonderful experience for anyone willing to learn and do something different. I recommend and commend Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic for their dedication and compassion for saving lives of these special, intelligent and social creatures.
Dr. Paramesh Kurapati DVM, MS – Associate Veterinarian, Banfield Pet Hospital
This most unique hands-on experience available
I was lucky enough to know Dr. Isabelle and Justin before the clinic opened. Their family had already established themselves as an important part of the Cayo community in Belize. Then, Isabelle won the Heska Grant to open Belize’s first Wildlife and Referral Clinic. Isabelle was invited to visit New Mexico State University (NMSU) as a Gerald Thomas Fellow for a week’s worth of seminars and presentation on campus and for the community. After each of her presentations, she had a group of excited students wanting to talk to her about internships and opportunities to work alongside her. I was thrilled to see some of my NMSU Belize Field School students get accepted to interns at her new clinic. I was also excited to see my good friend – the talented, devoted, Dr. Isabelle – be recognized and supported. From the first day the clinic opened, it was full steam ahead helping domestic and wild animals recover from injury and training young vets to take on the challenging work. One of the most compelling clinics with dozens of stories to pull at your heartstrings – this clinic is the one of a kind. Inviting international professional med-vets and interns, this is the best, most unique hands-on experience available for wildlife, animal science, and pre-vet students. Without hesitation, I recommend that university faculty and administrators send their talented students to participate in this life-changing experience.
Director, NMSU Belize Field School and Coordinator and NMSU Faculty-Led International Programs, “FLiP” (2006-2014)
Combined my love of travel with my passion for veterinary medicine
Ever since starting vet school, I was searching for an opportunity to combine my love of travel with my passion for veterinary medicine. I found the perfect mixture with the BWRC’s unique Wildlife Medicine and Conservation Course. Dr. Isabelle and Justin are fantastic people and have created such a welcoming and supportive environment for students to learn in. The course opened my eyes to many different aspects of the profession, from meeting and treating weird and wonderful wildlife, to providing excellent care without the same resources as the clinics back home. The experience inspired me to step outside of my comfort zone, and helped me to gain confidence in facing new challenges. Outside of the clinic, we visited BWRC’s partner organizations, where we saw even more species including iguanas, howler monkeys, birds of prey, parrots, and more. I learned so much about conservation and the issues that impact wildlife around the world. I also met some incredible animals that were saved from an uncertain fate by the dedicated people caring for them. I truly believe that the work of BWRC and their partners makes this world a better place, for people and animals. I can’t wait to go back!”
Catherine Ha, Student Veterinarian
Ontario Veterinary College Class of 2016
unusual vet experiences
I am Claire, a French vet student that came to the Belize Wildlife Clinic last summer in order to improve my knowledge about wildlife care. I have been there with a friend without knowing what we would do exactly because I like being surprised and, indeed, I was not disappointed at all. It was not only a great experience but it brought me a vision of what I would like to do in the future as a vet. We learned about birds and reptiles, animals that we do not study in class, and it was very interesting. We visited several conservation programs that are keeping the Belizean wildlife alive. We also had the opportunity to go to Guatemala and we learned there about the rehabilitation of howler and spider monkeys. Moreover, we had some free days organised so that we could discover the wonders of the region and we visited the Mayan temples of Tikal in Guatemala and went snorkeling in the Cayes of Belize. It would take me many days if I described everything that we did and my feelings about it so I will go straight to the point : It was a wonderful experience that combines visits of a beautiful country, unusual vet experiences and social interactions with very interesting people.
University of Alfort College of Veterinary Medicine, 2016
tailored to our individual interests and surpassed our expectations
Dr. Isabelle and Justin were kind enough to facilitate a personalized clinical rotation for me and four other classmates from Michigan State. Rather than spending 3 weeks at Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic, we were invited to complete the first 1-2 weeks at ARCAS in Guatemala. As someone who has visited Belize a handful of times but never had an opportunity to cross the border into Guatemala, I was thrilled with the idea of a new adventure. On the other hand, we had no clue what to expect. ARCAS had never hosted veterinary students for a clinical rotation before. We would usually have a lecture with Dr. Alejandro and / or Dr. Fernando each afternoon and participated in treatment of hospitalized animals. Some days, we would plan an enclosure-wide capture of animals to perform physicals, get blood samples, and give dewormer / ivermectin as needed. Daily life at ARCAS was quite rugged. We slept in a screened bunkhouse, ate meals with the crew in the commissary, and completed daily chores. These chores always included preparing diets and cleaning enclosures; manual labor was thrown in at random. This new lifestyle hit us like a ton of bricks and we experienced emotional ups and downs. The harder we worked, the more involved our clinical experience became. The development of camaraderie, trust, and respect was like nothing I had ever experienced. Dr. Alejandro and Dr. Fernando tailored to our individual interests and surpassed our expectations. ARCAS houses hundreds of animals and the doctors exposed us to all kinds of species, building our confidence in wild animal restraint & medication delivery through various routes. The doctors at ARCAS are wonderful, brilliant people that went above and beyond in providing us with a life-changing experience. We spent the latter end of our rotation at Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic in a more intimate, organized setting. Dr. Isabelle aimed to provide lessons to suit each of our individual interests. We even spent one morning touring the slaughterhouse next door upon my request, the future cow vet. I learned a few tricks and technical skills that have come in handy with exotics on other rotations. The entire experience between the two facilities was a perfect way to explore different forms of wildlife medicine. It was also a fantastic adventure and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Chelsea van Assche
University of Michigan College of Veterinary Medicine, 2015
Where once there was no hope, there now is
I have worked with Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand since 2011 in several different capacities, including working with wild parrots in Belize. For the field seasons of 2013 and 2015 I journeyed with her and her interns into the area where a collaboratory group is protecting and studying free flying macaws. I assisted them in learning how to conduct nest and health checks, and taking and processing laboratory samples for disease and genetic screening. They now regularly monitor the health of wild chicks, both those still in the nest and also temporarily in captivity awaiting release. Their dedication has served the scarlet macaw well, as well as the partner organizations with whom they work .The macaws are more fully protected, and their health maintained so that they can flourish in the wild. Where once there was no hope, there now is. By working with the Scarlet Macaw Protection Program you will not only gain experience in conservation medicine and parrot conservation, but you will also be part of meaningful work with an enthusiastic group of people where you will make a difference.
Dr. LoraKim Joyner
One Earth Conservation
a truly eye-opening, and even life-changing experience
My time at BWRC was a truly eye-opening, and even life-changing experience. The first time I was standing at the front door at BWRC, I only had the vaguest idea about working with wildlife, and was here only hoping I could get some veterinary experience. BWRC gave me a lot more than what I had expected. Walking out of BWRC, now I not only know a lot more about veterinary medicine, but also have met many amazing people working in different fields, who I have the honor to call them friends. BWRC attracts me not only because of the variety of the patients we treated everyday, which ranged from reptiles to mammals and even birds, but more importantly, the persistence and passion of Dr. Isabelle has for her work make me love this place even more. It is almost hard to believe despite all the difficulties, she has been able to keep her belief and now is spreading it all around the world. After talking to and working with her, I believe that wildlife veterinary medicine and conservation are truly what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am also glad that BWRC brings me to this wonderful country, where nature is still the dominant. No matter how many ecology classes I have taken at school, it can never compare to what I felt when I was physically in the jungles. I found that the nature I have always loved was more beautiful than I imagined, and it made me believe all we have done and will do are meaningful. Words cannot describe how much I thank Dr. Isabelle and Justin for your help, both professionally and personally. I am still on my journey to achieve my goal, but I will always carry my memory of Belize with me.
Interning at BWRC jump-started my veterinary career
The BWRC experience provided so much exposure to wildlife veterinary medicine and conservation issues that I could not have received otherwise. I worked directly with Dr. Isabelle treating a multitude of animals from snakes and parrots to horses and monkeys! Interning at BWRC jump-started my veterinary career and I cannot wait to return!
2017 Doctor of Vet. Med. Candidate
share the same passion for biodiversity conservation
Wildlife conservation is a challenging endeavor but working with partners that share the same passion for biodiversity conservation, such as the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC) and the Wildlife Institute (WI) makes the venture easier. Over the last three years the BWRC has been instrumental in the conservation and management of the endangered Scarlet Macaw population of Belize. The BWRC has provided free veterinary care for scarlet macaw chicks and has helped leverage funds for the project. The Wildlife Institute has provided much needed financial assistance to the scarlet macaw management project by recruiting professional volunteers who help in the laboratory hand rearing and husbandry of at risk of being poached scarlet macaw chicks. I am certain that without the help from these two institutions it would have been almost impossible to increase the number of scarlet macaw fledgling from 8 in 201 to a total of 15 fledglings in 2015.
Wildlife Biologist – Friends for Conservation and Development
I returned to Belize to work at BWRC
During my clinical year of veterinary school, I was fortunate to be able to participate in the 2 week internship program working with Dr. Isabelle. During my time in Belize, I was able to gain experience working with a large variety of wildlife including many species of birds, primates, reptiles, small felids as well as exotic pets and domestic animals. I enjoyed my time in Belize so much that upon graduation from veterinary school, I returned to Belize to work at the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic with Dr. Isabelle. Dr. Isabelle is an amazing mentor and teacher. She helped me develop not only my medical and surgical skills, but also provided me with the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and take on many new challenges. Besides the many unique opportunities to work with a variety of wildlife and wildlife organizations, Belize is a safe and fun place to visit. There is always a lot to do and see, from the Mayan ruins, to the beach, to the Caves, and so much more. There is never a dull moment. And, the food is amazing! No matter whether you are a pre-vet student, a veterinary student, zoology or animal science major, or just have an interest in animals and conservation medicine, Dr. Isabelle and her husband Justin and the team at the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic will make sure that you have an amazing experience by learning a ton and making unforgettable memories! I certainly cherish my time there and hope to return again in the future.
Sarah Wills, DVM, MS
Associate Veterinarian – Exotic Animal Care Center
by far one of the greatest two weeks I have ever experienced
I interned with the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic for two weeks in April of 2015. The clinic is an amazing place with an absolutely brilliant staff. I found out about the clinic through a post on Facebook, and I decided to email the link provided where I received a response the same day. They were readily available and extremely helpful, making it easy to apply and join their next course. As a pre-veterinary student, Dr. Isabelle and the rest of the team welcomed me into a course where I learned so much that will greatly benefit my future. From hand-feeding a baby kinkajou and giving daily meds to iguanas to assisting in a surgery for a howler monkey, I learned and practiced valuable techniques with beautiful animals found in this magnificent area of the world. Every member of the team was enthusiastic and truly wanted to help me learn. Our group was able to also travel to ARCAS in Guatemala where, among other animals, we worked with scarlet macaws, and we also visited the Belize Zoo where we experienced an encounter with one their famous jaguars named Buddy. My Belize adventure was by far one of the greatest two weeks I have ever experienced, and I am so grateful to the staff for being so welcoming and teaching me so much.
an excellent educational experience
February of 2015 found me returning to Belize to visit Dr Isabelle, and Justin Ford at the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic. Since my previous visit to Belize one year earlier, I had just passed my International Wildlife Certification exam. I had met Isabelle and Justin in 2014 while I was volunteering at Wildtracks. I was so impressed with their knowledge and compassion for all the wildlife of Belize that I knew the next visit was going to be to their clinic.
When my husband Keith and I arrived, the clinic was extremely busy caring for a variety of newly injured and recuperating wildlife patients. Dr Isabelle was out with two other volunteer vets darting and capturing a juvenile howler monkey that was then sent to Wildtracks. Dr Isabelle is the only fulltime wildlife vet in Belize and she covers the entire country. Her clinic is the only facility with radiology, ultrasound, and more advanced surgical equipment. The clinic set up impressed me as much as Dr. Isabelle did. The clinic staff graciously welcomed our help and assigned us patients.
I took care of a 6-7 foot boa named Margo. She had been run over by a bushwhacker a few months back and was all busted up. She was doing much better so I carried her outside to lie in the sun and got her to move around to get some exercise. I syringe fed strawberry yogurt to a four eyed baby opossum named Piccolo who had an injured nose. So adorable. A very frightened juvenile raccoon was just admitted and was too stressed to be handled so I just fed and cleaned his enclosure with him in it. He later calmed down nicely. Feeder mice and rats needed some attention and cleaning. Every animal no matter what their purpose gets treated with compassion and dignity. Another patient, a green iguana named stargazer, had been brought over from the Iguana Project. He had been injured by another male lizard and was a little neurologic. I was assessing his ability to walk and climb. Three red slider turtles that are not indigenous to this environment were at the clinic to be sterilized surgically and then released. They are a byproduct of the pet trade. When people tire of them they just release them, and if not captured and sterilized or euthanized they will compete with the indigenous species for food and territory. Another turtle, an endangered Hicatee was there for treatment and to put on weight. Working with an endangered species is always a privilege, and it was extra special because this was my first Hicatee.
At the end of the day we traveled off site to feed two coatis, Clarence and Lola. Whey were in a large enclosure in a secluded, wooded area to help them get ready for their release. The clinic with its many opportunities both on and off site was an excellent educational experience. Although the native wildlife species I work with on Cape Cod, Massachusetts are very different from those in Belize; the basic principles of animal care are the same. Working with Dr. Isabelle and her staff sent me on my way with new skills, new experiences to draw from, and new friends. Thank you for all you do.
Cape Wildlife Center Volunteer and Certified International Wildlife Rehabilitator
- Belize Zoo
- Green Iguana
- UB ERI
ARCAS (Guatemala) is a non-profit Guatemalan NGO formed in 1989 by a group of Guatemalan citizens who became concerned as they saw their precious natural heritage – especially their wildlife – rapidly disappearing before their eyes. ARCAS was originally created for a very specific and urgent purpose: to build a rescue center to care for and rehabilitate wild animals that were being confiscated on the black market by the Guatemalan government. Since its establishment, the ARCAS Rescue Center has grown into one of the largest and most complex rescue centers in the world, receiving between 300 and 600 animals of more than 40 species per year.
The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center was started in 1983, as a last ditch effort to provide a home for a collection of wild animals which had been used in making documentary films about tropical forests. Shortly after the backyard “zoo” began, it was quickly realized that its Belizean visitors were unfamiliar with the different species of wildlife which shared their country. This very aspect fomented the commitment to develop the little zoo into a dynamic wildlife education center. Today, The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center is settled upon 29 acres of tropical savanna and exhibits over 150 animals, representing over 45 species, all native to Belize. The zoo keeps animals which were orphaned, rescued, born at the zoo, rehabilitated animals, or sent to The Belize Zoo as donations from other zoological institutions. The Belize Zoo has become the first nature destination in Belize that is fully accessible to visitors with physical disabilities.
BFREE was founded in 1995 with the primary purpose of developing and implementing a conservation program for the Bladen Nature Reserve. To achieve this goal, BFREE established a biological field station strategically located in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, adjacent to the reserve. BFREE’s mission is “to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Belize.” As the only field station in this biologically significant area, BFREE seeks to achieve its mission by successfully integrating scientific research, environmental education and conservation, while also enhancing sustainable development and providing alternative livelihoods for local community members.
The Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC) is a Belizean non-profit organization founded in 2011 with the help of a host of wildlife partners and friends. Our founder had assisted wildlife mostly in the field and without a clinic facility and only basic medical equipment for several years, before a very special and severely injured monkey, named Spartacus gave her the final push to seek funding to establish BWRC. BWRC can now offer on-site x-ray and gas anesthesia; for both wildlife and domestics. This is a first in Belize, and world class by any measure. The clinic receives wildlife patients on a regular basis and also has a small animal vet for its domestic referral services.
BWRC and the Wildlife Institute were both founded simultaneously by Justin Ford and Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand. Its aim is to provide free medical care to injured, orphaned, neglected or otherwise imperiled wildlife. The Wildlife Institute provides finances to the support this and other BWRC activities including conservation and educational outreach. The Wildlife Institute partners with the clinic to provide veterinary internships and courses to the international community.
The Cayo Animal Welfare Society (CAWS) is passionate about improving the lives of animals in the western communities of Belize. CAWS is operated by a group of volunteers. CAWS mission is to provide for a better life for all domestic animals of Cayo through education, health care and maintenance.
Founded in 1985, the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS) is a pioneering project in voluntary grass-roots conservation. Their goal is to sustain the habitat of the Black Howler Monkey (Baboon in local Creole dialect) while prompting the economic development of local communities. Over 200 land owners and seven villages over 20 square miles have pledged to conserve their land for the Black Howler Monkey. CBS has four main goals; conservation, education, research, and tourism. In 1998, the Women’s Group was formed and currently manages CBS providing direct economic benefits to local families. CBS’s Community Development and Mobilization project aims to strengthen the Women’s Group through training and long-term planning. CBS has responded to community devastation wrought by Hurricane Richard in 2011 with its Greenhouse Project. CBS has a fantastic little museum on site. The women’s group can arrange meals and local accommodations for visitors. Contact CBS to arrange your visit. Dr. Isabelle has worked with CBS over the past decade, taking student groups and tourists to see Howler Monkeys in their native habitat. The Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic sends each of its interns and student groups on CBS tours, and the Wildlife Benefactor Tour will include CBS on its itinerary contributing $200BZ per person to CBS.
The Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) is a Belize-based nonprofit, established in January 2016, that seeks to preserve crocodiles and their environments throughout Central America and the Caribbean to ensure the long-term sustainability of biodiversity in the region.
Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) is a protected areas management, conservation and research organization which manages the Chiquibul Forest, comprising 5% of Belize’s territory. Among FCD’s many fantastic programs are the Scarlet Macaw Nest monitoring program in partnership with numerous organizations, including the Wildlife Institute and the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic. The Wildlife Institute pays for staff and interns from the Belize Wildlife & Referral clinic to conduct veterinary health checks on nesting chicks to give them a better chance of survival.
The Zoological Foundation of El Salvador (FUNZEL) is a non-profit NGO founded in 1991. FUNZEL’s mission is to implement programs that contribute to the conservation of wildlife in El Salvador. Their purpose is to protect and conserve wildlife in El Salvador, developing research programs, rehabilitation of species, veterinary medical care, environmental education and awareness of various sectors of the population in order to avoid traffic and tenure of wild animals as pets and/or in captivity.
The Green Iguana Conservation Project is a continuous effort that aims to conserve and look after the endangered Green Iguana species in Belize. The Project uses interactive exhibits and programs to help educate visitors and create awareness among the general public. Here, visitors are given the opportunity mingle with these wonderful reptiles and also, learn the about the incubation, hatching, rearing, and releasing process. The Green Iguana Conservation Project offers the Adopt an Iguana Program and the Iguana Kids Club both of which raise funds to sustain the Project and fund scholarships. The Project has received much attention locally and internationally and is ranked as the Number 1 Activity in the San Ignacio area by TripAdvisor.
The Wildlife Institute’s local tourism partner for culturally immersive tourism experiences, no one does Cayo tourism like Nine Belize.
The University of Belize Environmental Research Institute (UB ERI), inaugurated in January 2010, was created primarily to address the large gap in local capacity for research and monitoring that exists within Belize. Belize has a wealth of natural resources, including the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, which supports the country’s most important industries, including tourism and agriculture. Recognizing this, the work of the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute is focused on producing results that are directly relevant and applicable to the sustainable management of Belize’s natural resources and building local capacity for this. At a finer but equally important scale for Belize’s development, the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute was created as a semi–autonomous department of the University of Belize (UB), with transparent and efficient management of projects at its core, in order to provide a much needed mechanism for research within the University.
Founded in 1990, Wildtracks is working toward the sustainable future of the natural resources for the people of Belize through conservation, research, education and sustainable development. Wildtracks implements its activities through four Wildtracks programs: Conservation & Research; Education & Outreach; Sustainable Development; and the Support Program. Under the Conservation & Research Program is the Manatee and Howler Monkey rehabilitation centers. Wildtracks has an excellent volunteer program which requires a 6 month commitment. Contact Wildtracks founders and directors Paul and Zoe for more information about volunteering or supporting Wildtracks. The Wildlife Institute began sending student groups to Wildtracks in 2013. Dr. Isabelle, founder of the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic began working with Paul and Zoe of Wildtracks in 2009 through the Belize Wildlife Conservation Network. Wildtracks and the Wildlife Institute are now working in partnership with the Wildlife Benefactor’s Tour and the Wildlife Medicine and Conservation course offered at the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic. The Wildlife Benefactor Tour donates $200BZ per person to Wildtracks.