After visiting Rare alumnus Rafael Manzanero, photographer Jason Houston makes his second stop in Belize at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary — site of a Pride campaign being run by Belize Audubon Society.
The bus to Crooked Tree
The second half of our visit to Belize takes us north into flatter land and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Here we are visiting the Pride campaign run by local conservationist Olivia Carballo-Avilez and Belize Audubon Society (BAS), with support from National Audubon Society.
After hitching a ride to Belize City with Derric Chan, Manager for Chiquibul National Park (see previous post), and checking in at the BAS office, we caught the slow bus north, heading back out to the countryside and our home for the next week.
The 16,000 acre Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (CTWS) is one of the world’s great birding destinations. The curvy cashew trees (where everything ‘Crooked Tree’ gets its name), scraggly savannah pine forests, and surrounding rivers and lagoon support nearly 30 species of mammals, 28 species of fish, and over 300 species of birds, including the Jabiru Stork, the largest bird in the Americas with a wingspan of over 8 feet. Crooked Tree was established as Belize’s first Wildlife Sanctuary in 1984 and has been a RAMSAR site since 1998. It was recently listed by Belize’s National Protected Area Plan in the top ten of 95 protected areas in the country, on account of its biodiversity. The Sanctuary is also home to Crooked Tree Village, which sits right smack in the middle of the protected area, on the large island in the main lagoon. Crooked Tree is the oldest village in Belize, founded in the early 1700s as the original source for indigo dye, which comes from the logwood tree. Today its 800 or so Creole inhabitants are mostly cattle farmers and fishermen. There are far fewer family names here than individual families, and everyone knows everyone. Indeed, most people here claim to be related to one another in some way, if you go far enough back. Pride in being distinctly from Crooked Tree runs deep in these self-proclaimed “Crooked Treeian Creoles”.
Sisters, fishing early in the morning with their family
Our bus arrived a couple hours after we began the alleged 45-minute drive from Belize City (the afternoon local buses also serve as the school buses), and dropped us at the crossroads of the main highway and the dirt causeway across the lagoon (and still several miles outside of Crooked Tree).
Leonard, a soft spoken Creole and expert birder from the small hotel where we are staying, met us at the junction, undeterred by our tardy transportation. The short drive into Crooked Tree took another half hour as we drove, literally, 5 mph the entire way. Belizean time, we were told, is about one hour behind when things are scheduled. Crooked Treeian time, we’re finding out, moves at an even slower pace.
A road in Crooked Tree Village
Tomorrow we join an agricultural workshop that is part of a collaboration between the Belize Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Belize Audubon Society. The workshop’s goal is to teach alternative and improved practices that are better for the environment and also more cost-effective and profitable to Crooked Tree area cattle farmers.