Animal Adventures in Belize by Erika Del Pilar, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Major


Posted: November 26, 2018

"The amount of experience and exposure I gained in this course was unlike any other internship or job I’ve had in the United States"

As I stared at my unpacked suitcase only hours before leaving for the airport, I realized just how overwhelmed and anxious I was to have the opportunity to study veterinary medicine and wildlife health in Belize for a month. I didn’t quite know what to expect from my first study abroad experience but I hoped to be able to directly engage in the care and conservation of animals- it’s safe to say that I was not disappointed.

This summer, I had the opportunity to take two courses in Belize through the Center for Engaged Learning Abroad (CELA). The first course was centered on wildlife health while the second course primarily focused on large animal veterinary practices. During the first two weeks, we stayed in a small cabin at the Tropical Education Center. Here we lived amongst an abundance of insects, including mosquitos, snakes, spiders, and even scorpions. Each day was filled with new experiences and adventures, as we visited different wildlife conservation programs and learned about current conservation efforts in Belize. Some of the places we visited included a raptor conservation center, a baboon sanctuary, the Belize Zoo, and the Runaway Creek Nature Reserve. One of the most memorable experiences from the first course was getting to plan an enrichment activity for an animal of our choice at the Belize Zoo. My team designed several obstacles for a male ocelot that forced him to problem solve in order to enjoy treats that were inside different cardboard boxes. Providing captive animals with daily enrichment is extremely important, as it improves quality of life and stimulates animals to use their natural instincts. Overall, the wildlife health course provided me with a wealth of knowledge and appreciation of the importance of conservation and the wildlife in Belize.

The large animal veterinary medicine course occupied the last two weeks of my stay in Belize. For this course, we were relocated to the Midas Resort in the city of San Ignacio. The change in location was quite drastic, as we went from humid cabins in the middle of the forest to air-conditioned cabanas with Wi-Fi and a pool. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this course was going to be extremely hands-on. On the first day I assisted a veterinarian spaying a dog. When he finished the surgery, he set his surgical tools down, told me to suture the incision, and left the room. The amount of experience and exposure I gained in this course was unlike any other internship or job I’ve had in the United States. Every day, we visited different farms where we performed physical exams, vaccinations, and neuters on horses, cattle, sheep, or swine. Each farm had a unique experience accompanying it, from chasing after sheep and vaccinating them at one farm to castrating piglets at another. On the weekend, we hosted a free small animal clinic where we provided local pets with check-ups, vaccinations, and spays or neuters. We provided care to over 50 animals that weekend.  

This experience was extremely rewarding because it allowed us to help several animals and provide services to local farmers and pet owners for free through our tuition. Through this experience, I gained a better understanding of the role of farms, production animals, and wildlife. The skills I developed in Belize involving large animal medicine are ones I look forward to sharing and applying in the future. Overall, studying abroad in Belize was the perfect opportunity to cultivate my passion to care for animals.