It was February of 1970 and I was a 23-year-old graduate student in Arizona working toward a degree in herpetology. My studies were to be focused on tropical king snakes and I thought that Venezuela would be a great destination to check out for my research.
I purchased a Ford Econoline van, packed it with collecting gear, photographic equipment, a few items of clothing, and off I went heading toward Venezuela. While driving down the east coast of Mexico, I ended up making a detour in British Honduras (Belize); one that would forever change my career. No pavement, no stop lights, no television, no resorts, just mile after mile of bumpy dirt roads and what seemed to be a never-ending expanse of rainforest. Parrots, toucans, monkeys, reptiles and amphibians were everywhere. Every few miles I could jump out of the van and chase snakes down the road. This was as close to heaven as a 23-year-old herpetology graduate student could get!
"IZE is still the first and foremost, as the benchmark for educational travel within Belize"
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found my way east to another unscathed world. A couple of days of 10 mph dirt/mud roads and I ended up at the end of the Hummingbird Highway in Stann Creek Town (now Dangriga) looking out over the Caribbean Sea.
Just when I was trying to figure out my next move, a young boy approached the van. “Hey mista there’s an island out there and I can take you to the people who own it, they can take you out there and you can live there for a week”. Such was my introduction to Henry Bowman Jr., Carrie Bow Caye and the incredible offshore islands of British Honduras. We were given a box of matches, a frying pan, a kerosene lantern, a spear gun and told that we could drink the water from the old wooden rain barrel and that we would be picked up in a week.
I befriended a Maya family living in San Antonio, Florentino Tzalam, his wife Juanita and their then 7 children. Florentino (Tino) offered me his services to guide me thru the outback. We spent the next several weeks crisscrossing the high bush and visiting the remote Indian villages of the Maya and Kekchi, some of them several days away on foot. And yes, Henry was right, it was indeed just like you stepped out of the pages of National Geographic!
The experience was unimaginable and I could never articulate the experiences well enough to ever do justice in this brief verbal description. Suffice it to say, I met people living in the bush, experienced incredible primary forests, encountered flora and fauna the likes of which are indescribable. Some species never seen before in British Honduras/Belize. I even came face to face with the elusive jaguar; who crouched, flicked its tail and stared at me. For a brief moment while not sure of his intentions, I could feel the pit in my stomach as I wondered the outcome of the encounter.
Moving right along as you’re hopefully feeling my passion. Incidentally, as you may have suspected by now, I never did make it to Venezuela until some 12 years later. Shortly after returning to Boston I was offered a job as the curator of reptiles and amphibians for the new zoo in Boston. Since at the time the new zoo was only on paper, I was temporarily placed in charge of the huge walk thru aviary at the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, MA.
In the aviary there was a Z shaped walkway that patrons would use taking them from the upper entrance level to the lower exit level. Near the lower exit level was a small duck pond with the walkway above it. One morning I was raking the sand around the duck pond and noticed a family standing above me watching me. I overheard one of the children ask his father “Daddy, what’s that man doing”? His father desponded “Son, he’s cleaning up after the birds and that’s what’s going to happen to you if you don’t go to college”. In that instant my life was changed, six years of college and here I am cleaning up after birds. I dropped the rake and asked myself, “what is my passion”? My passion is wildlife photography, exploring wild uncharted lands and teaching people about wildlife ecology and evoking this passion within others. International Zoological Expeditions (IZE) was born!
Back to British Honduras I went and I traversed what seemed like every inch of that country from North to South from East to West even into Yucatan Mexico and Guatemala’s Peten. I was looking for the perfect island and the perfect rainforest to set up IZE’s rainforest ecology center and IZE’S marine biology station. I firmly believe that without a doubt, I was able to secure the two most beautiful sites in all of what is now Belize. Blue Creek Rainforest and South Water Caye, there’s simply just nothing else like it in Belize anywhere.
And now more than four decades later IZE is still the first and foremost, as the benchmark for educational travel within Belize. It’s all about our staff, our mission, our dedication and of course location, which is the best in Belize … We guarantee it!!
Frederick J. Dodd (Director/Founder)
“I even came face to face with the elusive jaguar...”
“In that instant my
life was changed...”
“Just when I was trying to figure out my next move, a young boy approached the van”
“I was able to secure the two most beautiful sites in all of what is now Belize”