The Community Baboon Sanctuary was established in 1985 to protect one of the few healthy black howler monkey populations in Central America. Unlike any other existing wildlife management project in the world, the sanctuary is a completely voluntary, grassroots conservation program dependent upon the cooperation of private landowners within active farm communities. The rural villagers participating in the sanctuary have a strong tradition of respect and appreciation for the howlers which are found in abundance on their lands. When confronted with the need to preserve the howlers' dwindling habitat, the landowners responded generously.

Nearly all the landowners in the eighteen-square mile sanctuary on the Belize River have signed voluntary conservation pledges signaling a commitment to make their farming practices work in unison with the needs of the monkeys and other wildlife. Each landowner has pledged to follow an individualized conservation plan which will enhance and protect the howlers' habitat. These plans include protecting forests along riverbanks, leaving food trees when clearing land and maintaining corridors of forest around farmed areas. The management practices will benefit the landowners by reducing erosion, preventing river siltation and allowing for more rapid replacement of forests after slash and burn clearings.

The eight villages and the dozens of landowners making up the sanctuary are active and vital conservation partners in the sanctuary effort. Through sustainable land use practices and voluntary cooperation, sanctuary members are helping to ensure the future of the black howler monkey and its habitat in Belize.

The black howler monkey, known locally as the "baboon", is an endangered species which has a very limited range including Belize, southern Mexico and isolated areas of Guatemala. It is one of the six howler monkey species found in Central and South America. One of the most remarkable traits of the howler monkey is its loud, rasping howl which can be heard carrying across the forest for well over a mile.

The black howlers typically live in troops of 4 to 8 individuals with a dominant male heading the troop. During the day, the monkeys travel leisurely from tree canopy to tree canopy feeding and resting, rarely coming to the ground. The black howlers are strict vegetarians eating a wide variety of leaves, flowers, and fruits. Like other monkeys, howlers nurse their young, defend territory, use hands in feeding and communicate with facial expressions similar to humans.

Visitors to the sanctuary who spend the day are certain to hear the monkeys howling and visitors walking the sanctuary trails will most likely see them. Many local residents, if asked, are also a source for a variety of colorful and humorous anecdotes about the "baboons' which live in their back yards.

The baboon sanctuary is located within the lowland, broadleaved forests of north-central Belize. Most of the sanctuary is covered with riparian forests which parallel the meandering Belize River. At river's edge, the forests form dense, luxuriant tangles of trees, vines and epiphytes. The river forests are bordered to the east by cohune palm forests and skirted to the west by a belt of pine forest and pine savanna. This variety of forest types and forest habitats, though modified by a history of logging and slash and burn agriculture, supports around 100 tree species and scores of vines, shrubs, epiphytes and herbs. Interpretive trails which cut through the mosaic of forests and agricultural areas provide visitors a first hand view of the diversified habitats.

In addition to the numerous howler troops, an abundance of other animal life is found on the sanctuary. Nearly 200 bird species have been identified along with iguanas, hicatee, anteaters, armadillos, coati, paca, agouti, deer, peccary and many other species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. All these animals stand to benefit from the conservation efforts of sanctuary members.

In addition to the flora and fauna of the area, the sanctuary also provides visitors with an intimate view of rural Belizean life. The seven predominantly Creole villages in the sanctuary are agricultural communities with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Many of the villagers raise livestock and operate slash and burn plots called plantations. Inquisitive visitors can discover a wealth of information on the Creole lifestyle, past and present. A guide book is also available which emphasizes both village and natural history of the sanctuary.

With financial support from the World Wildlife Fund, a small natural history museum and visitors' center has been erected in Bennudian Landing. The building also houses the Sanctuary Manager's office. The Zoological Society of Milwaukee County has agreed to provide the funding necessary for the preparation of appropriate displays in the museum.

Since all lands in the sanctuary are privately owned and used for research, visitors are asked to check with the Sancutary Manager and use a guide before following trails.

Belize Audubon Society - May 1990

This information is furnished courtesy of the Belize Audubon Society

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