We have over 100 types of reptiles in Belize. Here are a few things you might not know about 2 of our most common iguanas
1: The Green Iguana, scientifically known as Iguana iguana is the largest iguana in Belize, with potential to grow up to 10 feet from tip to tail. They are magnificent and simultaneously scary looking creatures.
2: Belizeans call them Bamboo chicken, because apparently that’s what they taste like – chicken.
3: Funnily enough, despite its name, it’s green only when younger. As it matures, the male becomes more olive, changing to a magnificent orange color when mating. The female is a dull greyish color.
4: Green Iguanas are usually found inland hanging around in trees although they are known to hang out at the Cayes (who doesn’t love to hang out at the Cayes?)
5: They are very good swimmers, and are often seen launching themselves from great heights into a river in order to escape predators and boy, do they make a splash!
6: Apparently green Iguanas often star in dinosaur movies!
7: The other ubiquitous iguana of Belize, is the black or Spiny Iguana, whose scientific name is Ctenosaura similis. This one is usually found along the coast or on the Cayes. It’s locally known as Wish Willy and it likes to hang out on rocks and on the sand but can also climb trees.
8: These critters literally hoover up plants. They seem to eat anything even the ones they aren’t meant to. They especially love young green shoots or flowers , much to the annoyance of many a keen gardener.
9: Both the Spiny and the Green Iguana have a third eye known as a parietal located on the top of the head and looking very much like a scale. This is their early warning alarm. Though they can’t actually see completely through this, they can detect dark shadows and movement and the iguana will move its head to see properly through its true eyes if it detects danger.
10: Both iguanas use a bobbing head movement when threatened. They also use this movement during mating season which is normally from December through to February.
11: Our Iguanas love to sunbathe. In fact, they need the sun to warm their body temperature to at least 75F in order to move.
12: Like all lizards , they shed their tail in order to escape a threatening situation. The tail will continue to move whilst the iguana runs off. Its a very disconcerting thing to see. See this iguana here, his tail is still growing back but he doesn’t care.
13: Belize has a Green Iguana Conservation Project! It is located and run by San Ignacio Resort Hotel and they offer educational tours where you can not only learn about these reptiles, but also get up close and personal with them. Check them out –> Green Iguana Conservation Project
March 9th was originally called Baron Bliss Day, in honor of Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss. The Englishman willed a large sum of money to Belize upon his death on March 9, 1926. In 2008, the Belizean Government opted to highlight several other people who have made an impact in the development of our little country, and so March 9th is now officially called National Heroes and Benefactors Day.
This public and bank holiday honors 11 heroes: Gwendolyn Lizarraga, Julian Armando Cho, Felipe Santiago Ricalde, Thomas Vincent Ramos, Nicholas Pollard Sr., Cleopatra White, Samuel Haynes, Phillip Stanley Wilberforce Goldson, George Cadle Price, Sir Isaiah Morter and Robert Sidney Turton.
With March 8th being International Women’s Day, we thought it would be fitting to highlight two of the women who marked Belize and left a legacy. We honor Gwen Lizarraga and Cleopatra White.
Born to Sidney Smith and Guadalupe Baeza on July 11, 1901 in Maskall Village, Gwendolyn Lizarraga was a successful business owner, outspoken politician, and women’s rights activist. Madam Liz – as she is known to Belizeans – was the first woman to serve as a government minister in Belize (then British Honduras). She operated a chicle and mahogany farm, eschewing convention by driving a land rover, wearing pants, carrying a gun and smoking cigarettes. Can you imagine what a sight that must have been? Talk about a trailblazer!
As an outspoken woman, she dealt with large companies like Wrigley’s, Castillo and Thurton without hesitation and with authority. In her dealings with employees however, her compassion was notable. She supported equal pay for equal work, particularly urging the protection of women workers.
The 1950s were the beginning of her work for women’s rights. In 1953, she was hired as a female parole officer, and the following year she began organizing women politically. By 1959, she had formed the United Women’s Group with 900 women throughout Belize, aiming to empower Belizean women culturally, economically and politically. She even co-founded the United Women’s Credit Union. She pushed for women to acquire property, surveying swamp lands and creating a map of parcels for women so they could become eligible to vote. Those parcels are now known as the Collet Constituency, between Curassow, Elston Kerr and Gibnut Streets, bounded by North Creek.
When Madam Liz noted that children couldn’t get an education because there were no schools in working-class neighborhoods, she and the women from the UWG got down to work, physically clearing mangrove swamps. Their efforts drew attention from the Publics Works Department, resulting in two new schools: Belize Junior Secondary Schools N° 1 and N° 2. Those schools are now known as Edward P. Yorke School and Gwen Lizarraga High School.
In April, 1961, the first year women were allowed to run in the country’s national elections, Gwendolyn Lizarraga became the first woman elected to the National Assembly of British Honduras. She won the Pickstock division with 69% of the votes, after which she was appointed as Minister of Education, Housing and Social Services, making her the first female Minister in the country.. She was reelected in 1965 and 1969, both times reappointed to her ministry. Her final run as Minister saw her spearheading a project to build low-cost housing in the neighborhoods of King’s Park, Lake Independence and Queen’s Square. (Fun fact: this writer lived on Lizarraga Avenue while studying at Junior College!). On June 9, 1975, after building an unimaginable legacy, Madam Liz passed away after battling illness.
By contrast, we have a hero in Nurse Cleopatra White, who was born in June 1898 in British Honduras. Following the death of her mother, she would be raised by her father until she entered school for nursing.
A dedicated community helper all her life, White became inspired by Nurse Vivian Seay’s work, and the two were instrumental in forming the Belizean branch of the Black Cross Nurses. White’s system for village councils in the management of hurricane preparations have been a model for villages across Belize. Her leadership and nursing skills, as well as her social work made her a leader in her country, and deserving of the honor of being a Belizean Hero.
For almost 20 years, Cleopatra White was a rural nurse, having worked alongside other nurses following a devastating hurricane in 1931. Their combined efforts established nursing and supply stations, and this experience pushed White toward social work. She went so far as to set up village council plans and organizing frontline emergency response in Gales Point (a true hidden gem of Belize). Her community development work nabbed her the Victoria Medal in 1953. During relief efforts after Hurricane Janet in 1955, the emergency plans she had worked on became a standard, and the model is still applied in Belize today. She was further awarded with the Member of the Order of the British Empire medal in 1958. In 1961, during Hurricane Hattie, she worked at the Hattieville Clinic, where she remained until she retired before the decade was over.
Retirement wasn’t about languishing, as White continued to train future nurses through the Black Cross Nurses. She was an art advocate, and a gifted songwriter and storyteller too. Despite all of her works to serve Belize, at the age of 89, Cleopatra White died poor in 1987, after several years in the Belize Old Folks Home. Following her death, The Cleopatra White Polyclinic in Belize City was opened in her honor.
So on March 9th, as you enjoy the holiday, I hope you can reflect on the impact made by these two amazing women. They, alongside nine distinguished gentlemen, are an invaluable part of the fabric of our Belizean society. May we honor them always.
The practice of naming airports after famous people has been in existence for many years. Presidents, artists, explorers, musicians, philanthropists and even footballers grace the names of some of the worlds most travelled airports. Here in Belize, it is our National Hero, Philip Stanley Wilberforce Goldson, who lends his name to the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA).
Philip Goldson was born on July 25th 1923 in Belize City at a time when Belize was still under British rule and known as British Honduras. At the age of 18 he took a job in the Civil Service, which sparked his lifelong interest in journalism and politics. He quickly became involved in the Nationalist movement, a movement focusing on the country’s independence from Britain, which took off with the formation of the Peoples United Party (PUP) in 1950. Goldson became Assistant Secretary to the party and at the same time, Editor of the paper Belize Billboard. It was an article in this paper that resulted in his sentence to a year of hard Labour, for “Seditious Intention”. Always thinking of his fellow Belizeans, Goldson used his time in prison to teach his fellow inmates to read and write.
For the rest of his life, Philip Goldson was involved in politics and instrumental in Belize’s independence. Simultaneously he sought to improve the lives of Belizeans through achievements such as the establishment of free primary education and governmental assistance to secondary schools, the initiation of the village council system and helping to rebuild Corozal town after the devastating Hurricane Janet. He also set up the family court, the department of Women’s affairs and the Disabilities Service Commission in his position as Minister of Social Services, under the term of the newly elected United Democratic Party (UDP) of which he was later a member.
Goldson was a man of determination and at the age of 51 studied to become a lawyer. Sadly, he lost his sight a few years later through glaucoma but this did not deter him from his goals. He continued his involvement in the area of disability and became president of the Caribbean Association of Disabled and Vice President of Rehabilitation International.
The Belize International Airport was given the name Philip Goldson International Airport in 1989 as recognition of his outstanding contribution to Belize. Just before he died in 2001, Mr. Goldson was presented with the Order of the Belize and posthumously in 2008 he was bestowed the greatest honor of Order of National Hero.
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