Famous for being the first jaguar preserve in the world, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is an enormous trackless wilderness located in southeastern Belize. Measuring more than 150 square miles (400 square km) in size, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary begins on the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountain and descends all the way to the shores of the Caribbean.
Originally inhabited by the Maya thousands of years ago, the area now protected as the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was abandoned during Belize's colonial period. After the British mapped the area in the late 19th century, cedar and mahogany logging began to have deleterious effects on the wildlife in the area, including the rare jaguar. In 1986, conservationists successfully lobbied the Belize Government to declare the area a nature reserve. In 1988, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature declares that the reserve was a major achievement in big cat conservation.
Today, visitors to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary can experience the beauty and wonder of nature in Belize as a day trip or experience overnight camping. Hundreds of species of indigenous plants thrive in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, allowing visitors to witness colorful birds, humming insects, scaly reptiles, and exotic amphibians that thrive in the varying landscape that ranges from verdant hills to lush wetlands. Although spotting a big cat in the wild is rare, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is home to jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, and jaguarundis as well as tapirs, deer, and monkeys.
The flora of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is also a wonder to behold, including orchids, palm trees, ferns, broadleaf trees, and native hardwoods like mahogany. Over 300 avian species have been recorded in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, including scarlet macaws, keel-billed toucans, king vultures, and great curassows. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to a number of reptiles and amphibians, including the endangered red-eyed tree frog, giant iguanas, and boa constrictor snakes.
Access to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is from the Southern Highway at a turnoff located 20 miles south of Dangriga. A local Maya community operates a gift shop and visitor center at the Maya Center Village near the entrance of the park. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is currently managed by the Belize Audubon Society.
Visitors should be aware that the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is primarily rainforest with a very humid climate. Drinking water and protection from insects is recommended for anyone entering the area.