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Your Guide to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Belize’s most beautiful and biodiverse protected areas. Named for the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains that resemble a cock’s (rooster’s) comb, this massive nature sanctuary measures more than 150 square miles of roadless wilderness that is home to hundreds of bird species and exotic wildlife.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for having been the world’s first dedicated wilderness sanctuary for the indigenous jaguar. Today, a team of scientists carefully monitors the jaguar population as well as the other four native big cat species of Belize.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary contains a variety of lush landscapes starting from the verdant hills of the Maya Mountains in the west and includes waterfalls, savannah, forest, and coastal wetlands. Wildlife and plant species have been abundant since the Paleozoic era more than 200 million years ago, and has yielded a variety of interesting fossils.

Today, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary primarily attracts hikers and bird watchers. The Belize Audobon Society has recorded hundreds of avian species inside the reserve. Today, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is one of seven Important Bird Areas as designed by the Audobon Society. Animals that can be found inside the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary include deer, tapirs, crocodiles, and black howler monkeys.

Day hiking trips are the most popular activity inside the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, although it is possible to stay overnight at accommodations managed by the Belize Audubon Society, including cabins and dormitories.

The ancient Maya that once dominated Belize once lived in what is now the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, although population densities were scarce. During the British colonial period, there was an initial attempt to log valuable hardwoods like cedar and mahogany from the area, but this came to an end once Belize became an independent nation in 1981 and realized the value of protecting the diversity of plant and animal species in the area.

In 1988, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary a major achievement for (big) cat conservation. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has also recognized the conservation value of protecting the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary from commercial and logging activities. In 1998, Victoria Peak in the Maya Mountains, located inside the sanctuary and the highest elevation in the country, became a separate protected area with the foundation of the Victoria Peak National Monument area.

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