If that ocelot or puma in Cockscomb Basin Sanctuary purrs, it’s not necessarily friendly. It may be emotionally sizing you up as a possible adversary. (If it roars, it’s a jaguar.)

Emerald-green moray eels and jewel-like angel fish, giant coral heads, and purple sea fans make up only a small part of the ecosystem that is the world’s second longest barrier reef, just offshore from this tiny Central American country once known as British Honduras.

Jaguars roam free inland in their own COCKSCOMB BASIN JAGUAR SANCTUARY, first and only reserve specifically set aside for these magnificent endangered spotted cats. Protected with them are keel-billed toucans, the impressive national birds, black orchids, the national flower, and the curious national animal, semi-aquatic Baird’s tapirs, related to rhinoceros but resembling short-trunked elephants.

Altogether 533 species of birds—from azure and gold-green parrots, scarlet macaws, and lacytailed mot-mots to iridescent ocellated turkeys and diminutive hummingbirds—plus 150 kinds of mammals, 140 reptiles and amphibians, and 3,400 species of native flowering plants (including 279 orchid species) are protected in more than 20 reserves, many private. Altogether they cover more than 40 percent of this country about the size of Massachusetts or Wales.

Habitats include more than 1,000 lagoons along mangrove fringed shore and coastal islands, sheltering one of the world’s largest populations of endangered manatees, to savannahs, mountains, and woodlands. Belize is 70 percent forested with more than 40 percent of its primary forest still standing. Independent since 1981, among the first laws passed were a wildlife protection bill and a national parks bill.

More about the Reserves in belize

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