The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in Southern Belize below the jagged peaks of the Maya Mountain's Cockscomb Range. The area was declared a forest reserve and a "NO HUNTING" area in 1984 to protect the large jaguar population and other resident wildlife. In 1986, a small portion of the forest reserve was given sanctuary status, which afforded it complete protection. The sanctuary was expanded in 1990 to include the entire forest reserve, resulting in a totally protected area of over 100,000 acres.

The ancient Maya were the basin's first known human inhabitants as evidenced by the ruins of a minor ceremonial site, Chucil Baalum, from the classic period of their civilization.

The Goldsworthy expedition of 1888, on the first known attempt to climb the Cockscomb range, noticed loggers had already entered the basin in their relentless pursuit of mahogany and cedar. Logs were floated in drives down the South Stann Creek to the coast where they were hauled by tug boats to Belize City. Many maps of the basin still bear the colorful names of timber camps such as "Sale Si Puede" (leave if you can) and "Go to hell camp", long ago reclaimed by the lush jungle.

The Cockscomb Basin, ringed on three sides by high ridges and mountains, rises from about 300 feet above sea level to approximately 3675 at the summit of Victoria Peak, the country's highest point. The sanctuary headquarters is reached by a six-mile entrance road from the village of Maya Center.

A history of selective logging and hurricanes has created a mosaic of mature and dense secondary forest with a canopy of 40-120 feet. The basin is honeycombed by a maze of creeks and tributaries merging to form the headwaters of two major rivers, the Swasey and South Stann Creek, and a part of a third, the Sittee River.

The distinct dry season runs from February through May. The wet season, during which most of the annual rainfall total of between 100 and 180 inches fall, extends from June through January. This amount of precipitation qualifies this lowland forest as "tropical moist forest".

The Cockscomb Basin has shallow granite-based soils which, like many tropical forest soils, are poor in nutrients. Without the jungle's dense vegetative cover, heavy rains would cause severe erosion leaving the Cockscomb a virtual wasteland.

Flora and Fauna
In addition to the Jaguar, the Cockscomb Basin's diverse ecosystem protects a sizable percentage of Belize's plant and animal species, including the endangered Ocelot, Margay, Baird's tapir and Scarlet Macaw.

The Jaguar is the third largest member of the cat (or feline) family in the world. An adult male may weigh up to 200 lbs and measure 6 1/2 feet from nose to tip of tail. The Cockscomb Basin has the highest density of Jaguars yet recorded. Males maintain overlapping territories of 11 to 16 square miles, while females ranges do not overlap and are about a third as large.

The Jaguar and Puma use old roads and trails to travel and hunt, often delineating their territories by vocalizations, depositing faeces, and leaving scratch marks. Active form dusk to dawn, the Jaguar is an opportunistic predator, eating almost anything it can catch, though Peccary, Brocket deer and Paca seem to be preferred.

Known in Belize as the red tiger, the unspotted Puma is probably active during the day and averages about 70 pounds, though it is capable of taking the same prey as the Jaguar. With markings similar to the Jaguar, the nocturnal Ocelot weighs about 30 lbs and can take prey much smaller than the Jaguar. Resembling the Ocelot but with special adaptations for its arboreal lifestyle, the Margay weighs about 10 lbs and feeds on birds, small rodents and insects. The last of the Cockscomb's cat is the diurnal Jaguarundi. Slightly heavier that the Margay, Jaguarundis come in two color phases, red and dark brown. Jaguarundis are built long and lean for catching small birds, rodents and lizards in the low brush.

Other mammals sharing the Cockscomb with the cats are the Tayra (a 10 to 15 lb weasel-like animal), Otter, Coati, Kinkajou, Brocket deer, White-lipped and Collared Peccary, Agouti, Paca, Anteater and Armadillo.

Known locally as the " Mountain Cow", the Baird's tapir is the largest terrestrial mammal in Central America, weighing as much as 600 lbs. Related to the horse, this thick-skinned herbivore feeds on leaves, twigs, fruits and seeds. Its sense of sight is poor, but it senses of smell and hearing are excellent. The tapir's most prominent feature is its trunk-like protruding upper lip, which can be used for plucking leaves. The tapir is the national animal of Belize.

The lush jungle of the Cockscomb Basin is a birder's paradise, with over 290 species recorded, including the Scarlet Macaw, Great Curassow, Keel-billed Toucan and King vulture. The basin is also home to numerous species of reptiles and amphibians such as the Red-eyed Tree Frog, Boa constrictor, Iguana and the deadly Fer-de-Lance. The jungle itself is made up of myriad of plant species such as Giant Tree Ferns, Orchids, airplants and spectacular climbing veins. Common tree species include: Banak, Negrito, Quamwood, Yemeri, Cohune Palm, Mahogany and Ceiba. A complete list and more information on these and other plants and animal species are on display at the Cockscomb Visitors' Center.

To keep this area as an enjoyable spot for everyone, visitors are asked to cooperate with the park management by observing these reserve regulations.

  • Please sign the park register at the Craft Shop in the Maya Center before proceeding
  • into the park.
  • Permits are required for people passing through the park to climb Victoria Peak.
  • Remember that all wildlife is protected in this park.
  • Please do not disturb, harm, or attempt to capture any animals or birds.
  • Please do not disturb, collect or remove any plants or trees.
  • No person shall remove any antiquities or other objects of cultural or natural importance.
  • Do not litter. Please leave trash in litter bins.
  • Cooking is allowed only at designated areas.
  • No fires should be lit along the trail.
  • Please do not bring pets into the park as they interfere with the wildlife.
  • Firearms are not to be taken into the park.
  • Please stay on trails.
  • Please do not destroy or vandalize the facilities provided.

This information is furnished courtesy of the Belize Audubon Society

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