Chirp! Click. Click. Click. Zzzzzip! The bats have come home to rest in the eves of the field base. I peer out from my hammock and look past the expansive, screened window that borders the field base. Sunlight has begun to peek over the forest canopy and the shadows of night fade back into the forest. One world ends and another begins. As the sun continues to rise, the birds become alive. From every direction a cacophony of songs blast from the undergrowth. Warblers. Tanagers. Creepers. All different shapes, sizes, and colors dip and dart as they make their way through the dense vegetation. The deep bellow of a curassow can be heard in the distance. Coffee. Breakfast. Boots. Now I’m out the door. It’s time to go to work.
Walking now. The morning air is still, but cool and fresh. The sun dapples my path and a splash of green slides quickly away from my approaching feet. The speckled racer turns its head and looks at me with distain as I disturbed its opportunity to bask in the morning light. Good days usually start with a beautiful snake crossing my path. As I continue my trek, a burst of commotion erupts from the forest as an agouti is interrupted from her mid-morning snack. She warns the forest of my presence with a loud, shrill bark and bounds off into the undergrowth. A forest is never quiet. Between the rustling leaves in the canopy to the constant drone of insects searching for a potential mate, you are always present to the marvelous symphony of the jungle.
Change course. I’ve reached my turn and quickly cut off the trail and break into the vegetation. There’s no clearly marked path, except for the almost indistinguishable machete cuts to palms, shrubs and trees. I pass through a tangle of vines, palm, poisonwood, and large, fruit-bearing trees. Whether for food or shelter, each plant plays an important role in providing for the creatures that call this place home. A branch snaps above my head and my direction turns upwards. An animal is climbing through the forest canopy. He positions himself on top of a large trumpet tree and stares off into the distance. The sun shines off of his thick black fur and he and the thin tree sway with the wind. Then with purpose, he inflates his body and emits a sound that can only be described as a roar. Such howling can be heard for kilometers as the sound travels far off into the distance. I smile and admire this wonderfully beautiful beast in the trees. This animal is the Yucatán Black Howler Monkey and Fireburn is his home.
Fireburn is a reserve of pristine rainforest located in northeastern Belize. Measuring 1,818 acres, Fireburn is co-managed by Wildtracks and the community of Fireburn, a small Kriol village that lives within the reserve. This area of land acts as a wildlife corridor between other reserves across Belize and provides refuge for many endangered and threatened species. Fireburn contains a diversity of flora and fauna and it serves as a release site for endangered Yucatán Black Howler Monkeys. These individuals are the first monkeys to live in the area for 70 years – 70 years ago there was an outbreak of yellow fever and pressure from hunting that extirpated the original population. To date twenty-nine monkeys have been released into the reserve. The story of each monkey is different, but most were former pets, were found injured, or were translocated from areas where they would not survive. During rehabilitation, these individuals gain confidence, form troops and are then released into Fireburn. These monkeys have since established territories, and are now reproducing. This is a conservation success story and in a time where such stories are rare, we can only expect more good things to come from this amazing place. I have been tasked with the incredible opportunity to manage the Fireburn Reserve and to ensure its forest is protected and the biodiversity of its flora and fauna continues to increase. In this remote part of the country, creature comforts are not available and I am far from people and reliable technology. One might be tempted to feel very alone in this place, yet I and the many others that are privileged to take a walk in Fireburn, never experience this feeling of loneliness. As naturalist John Muir stated, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Isolation truly does not apply for those who love to walk with the company of nature.