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Feeling the Burn in Belize

This time of year in Belize typically means hot and dry days all around. People and wildlife look for ways to stay cool as we move into the peak of the dry season: shaded hang out spots, a cool dip in a river or pond and staying rehydrated are all ways to beat the heat!

 

Adding to the usual heat that accompanies this time of year are forest fires. Natural fires are an important part of forest ecology. They are a disturbance that shapes the landscape they burn through, promoting change and growth. New “corridors” are opened up in thick forests, allowing wildlife new ways to move around in search of food, homes, and mates. Vital nutrients are put back in the soil after a fire. Some plant species are given a chance to thrive in the space created after a burn, and some species even rely on fire to help their seeds germinate and disperse!

However, fires have become more common in recent years, and are usually set by humans. People burn for agriculture, for hunting, and to get rid of dry debris and garbage. Apart from making it harder to stay cool in an already warming climate, these practices are extremely dangerous if not controlled properly.

A wildfire is a powerful and destructive force that often results from irresponsible burning practices. They work against natural fire ecology, causing severe damage to ecosystems and community property, killing wildlife, and causing health problems for people living in these areas. Children, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems are particularly at risk.

The Zoo is no stranger to fires. Surrounded by large tracts of savannah habitat, fire is an ever present part of our dry season. Our staff is always on the lookout for the threat of fires close-by, and often add the dangerous role of “fire-fighter” to their usual terms of reference in times of emergency.

Some of the residents of the Zoo were “fire orphans,” as well. Among them are grey foxes, and young tapir ambassador “Fuego.” Fuego was separated from his mother during a fire in 2013, and now helps spread the word about the importance of tapirs, as well as the importance of preventing forest fires. “No more Fuegos!” is his slogan; no more orphans like himself, and no more irresponsible burning!

TBZ asks the Belizean community to be mindful of the dangers of setting fires, and report careless burning to the authorities before they get out of control. Remember, if you can’t control it, don’t start it!

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