A unique conservation effort brings together eight villages to protect the population and habitat of Belize’s Black Howler Monkey, affectionately called “baboons” by the locals.
Within an area of approximately 20 square miles, straddling the mighty Belize River, the Community Baboon Sanctuary combines dense jungle with farmland, pasture, and small village life. The Black Howler Monkey is the largest monkey in the Americas, and found only in a small section of Central America. In fact, the total howler monkey population within the sanctuary is about equal to that of the humans-at 1000-1500 each! In addition to providing sanctuary for the monkeys, the conservation program here encompasses protecting the trees that provide food for the monkeys, preserving the forest along the riverbanks to prevent erosion and siltation, and maintaining corridors of habitat around pastures and farms. A beneficial by-product of this effort, is that many other jungle creatures thrive here, as well.
The village of Bermudian Landing, a 30-mile drive northwest of Belize City, is the centre of activity for the project, and is easily reached as a day trip from the city. Once you get near it, the well placed signs will direct you right to the Visitor’s Centre. You can often hear the mysterious, rasping roar of the monkeys in the distance, as soon as you get out of your vehicle. The Centre is an educational, jungle exhibit-type museum that demonstrates the interesting features and facts on the area. There is a BZ$10 per person registration fee for each visitor, which includes the museum, and a guided trail walk that allows you experience the monkeys close up. There is little that can describe the cacophony of these wild creatures, when heard for the first time, howling right overhead. During our short walk, we saw at least a dozen monkeys. The success of this program has led to the relocation of troupes of the howlers (usually 4 to 8 monkeys), into other areas of Belize where previous populations met their demise through loss of habitat, hunting, or disease. Such relocations have resulted in successful breeding and subsequent re-population of these areas.
Taking a canoe trip down the river here is another great way to see the howler monkeys, and also allows you the opportunity to see the myriad species of trees, plants, birds and other creatures that live in this specially preserved environment: Iguana, crocodiles, anteaters, and turtles, to name a few. These trips can also be arranged at the Visitor’s Centre, and cost about BZ$70 for two persons. Don’t forget your binoculars! It is also interesting to take your own “cultural tour” through the predominantly creole villages. While the Maya were likely the first settlers in this region, the Europeans were later drawn here by the market for mahogany trees. When the timber industry collapsed, the natives turned to ranching and subsistence farming. The locals are friendly, and you’ll gain an insight into their distinctive lifestyle.
Lodging in the Sanctuary
At the Community Baboon Sanctuary, you are sure to see a lot of monkeys in a short space of time, but if you want to make the most of your visit there, you should consider spending a night or two in local lodging facilities. This will give you ample time for the exciting canoe trip, and exploring the nature trails. It is easy to find a room here, just by showing up at the Visitor’s Centre. Many locals offer Bed & Breakfast in their homes. Right behind the Centre, is Nature Resort (pictured, left), run by Roy Young, which has two types of nice, thatched rooms. Both are clean, screened and comfortable: One with a private bath goes for BZ$84/double, and has a mini-kitchen facility; the other has a separate, shared bath for BZ$42/double. Neither has hot water, yet. Meals can be prepared for you at the owner’s family home, just steps away. There are no phones here in Bermudian Landing; walk-ins welcome!
Just before you reach Bermudian Landing, coming from Belize City, is Howler Monkey Lodge (at right), formerly named Jungle Drift Lodge. They have a collection of cabins close to the river’s edge, that offer basic comfort. You will no doubt sight numerous birds here, as well as the monkeys and other wildlife. They have cabins with private bath and hot showers for BZ$107/double and BZ$64.20/single. (Phone: 501-2-12158)
For more information
Because the community is not connected to the phone grid, they do not have any contact numbers or e-mail/internet access. There is always someone at the Visitor’s Centre, however, and pretty much anyone in the area is willing and able to supply you with information or directions. You may also contact the Belize Tourism Board, with any specific questions regarding the Sanctuary.