by Kara Graves, SUNY Cortland, November 13, 2008

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Belize, formerly known as the British Honduras, is a beautiful country located in Central America. Bordered by Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean Sea, it is the only country in Central America that’s national language is English. After a long battle for freedom, they were finally recognized in 1981 as an independent nation.

Belize is one of the smallest countries in the world both mile wise and population wise, with only 300,00 people inhabiting a 8,867 square mile area. The reason for its recognition? It’s is considered to be the rainforest capital of the world. Over 93% of the nation is covered in tropical trees, along with miles of cave systems. A haven for many eco-tourists, it is also the home to the Belize Barrier-Reef, the longest living barrier reef in the world.

Before speaking with a SUNY Cortland Political Science Professor, Thomas Pasquerello, the only thing I knew about Belize was that it was a country. I couldn’t even tell you its whereabouts. I had heard that Cortland student and professors were very interested in learning about Belize and had taken the initiative to visit and learn about environmental policy. Professor Paquerello, along with colleague Steve Broyles, began bringing student to Belize to study the environment and how it interacts with the economy. The Belize Zoo was one the main attractions.

Another SUNY Cortland Professor, Tim Baroni, had previously been involved with projects surrounding the Belize Zoo, and had made arrangement with the zoo founder, Sharon Matola, to come to the SUNY Cortland campus to speak.

Sharon’s speech not only informed both faculty and students here in Cortland, but created such a statement the several professors decided to create The Belize Zoo Project. The project was created to help with conservation and educational programs in Belize.

Although Cortland students and staff have been doing many great things with the many animals being held at the zoo, the animal that caught my interest most was the Margay.

The Margay, also known as a tree ocelot, is one of the smallest cats in the cat family. With its long slender body, at only 20 lbs and 26 inches long, it is considered to be the best climber in the feline class. They can be found mainly in Central America living among the canopies created throughout the tropical rainforests.

They have adapted to life beneath the trees, with strong nails and paws and ankle joints that rotate 180 degrees; the only cat with that characteristic. This fascinating animal can attach itself to a tree by one limb and hang like a monkey!

They feast mainly on rats and tree frogs, but are known to eat other small mammals, insects, and fruit. They are considered to be a deadly predator despite their size.
Unfortunately, the deadliest predators to the margay are humans. With only 10,000 left in the world, they are suffering from illegal poaching and the deforestation of Central America. The problem is that Margays only procreate 1-2 times a year, leaving humans to kill faster than they can reproduce.

In late august, a female Margay at the Belize Zoo gave birth to a kitten, which they named Cortland in honor of our schools efforts to help the Belize cause. The kitten, along with his mom, is doing fantastic!

If anyone is interested, Professor Pasquerrello is taking student to Belize from January 3-10, 2009. If you'd like to find out more about traveling to the Belize Zoo with members of The Belize Zoo Project, send an e-mail to

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