Tag Archives: animals

Caribbean Zoo with Kids

One bird.

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Two birds.

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Red bird.

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Blue bird.

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These colorful birds are just a sample of the animals at Sint Maarten’s zoo. Although the zoo is small, it has more than enough animals to delight anyone. There is a lot that makes this place special. One of those special things is that much of the zoo consists of endemic animals.

Endemic [en-dem-ik]  (Adjective):

“Belonging exclusively or confined to a particular place.”

This morning, Les Fruits de Mer, an organization dedicated to preserving and educating about the islands natural environment, hosted the Endemic Animal Festival at the zoo! The zoo was open to the public for free for three hours. I’ve been wanting to take some of the kids from our little league team to the zoo for a while now, so I was happy when Coach Tom asked for volunteers to drive the kids from the baseball field to the event.

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There is nothing quite like exploring the zoo through the eyes of a child. I love to see toucans, but even more, I love seeing little eyes light up when they see toucans.

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The Endemic Animal Festival was awesome. There were several activities for the kids: little jars of shrimp to examine, a checklist of animals separated in endemic and non-endemic categories, sidewalk chalk, and coloring. Anilda loved the coloring and crafts! I was impressed with the volunteers. They were so sweet with the kids, attentive to them, and made learning about the animals fun.

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The boys explored the zoo while Anilda colored. We caught up with them later, and here are a few of the things we saw:

Some of the boys were particularly interested in the snakes. Sint Maarten doesn’t have any snakes in wild, because European settlers released mongooses to kill them off. I tried to get a picture of the zoo’s mongoose, but it made a wicked fang face at me and hid in the shadows. Although the wild has no snakes, the zoo has a nice collection. Gabby was fascinated by a small snake that some of the volunteers and zoo staff were holding. They even let Gabby hold it for a minute!

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A few hours after the event, Ben and I went exploring on Green Cay. We saw an Anguilla bank anole lizard, and Ben pointed it out to me. “That’s an endemic animal,” he informed me. I guess everyone learned something new today! What wonderful memories.

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Hike in the Desert

Talk about fifty shades of gray. For much of the year, the entirety of the Sonoran Desert is more or less some variant on gray or brown. In spring, however, the desert landscape bursts into color with the awakening of the flowers.

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Brittlebush
My parents and I decided to take advantage of the spring weather and hike one of Phoenix’s big mountains. Phoenix is unique in many ways, but one of the things I love most about this city is the mountain ranges that rise from the center of the metropolis. In fact, Phoenix has the best urban hiking in the entire United States.

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We decided to hike Piestewa Peak, the second tallest mountain in the Phoenix Mountain Range. Piestewa used to be called Squaw Peak, but many people felt that this name was not respectful. It was renamed to honor a Native woman who died in combat in Iraq.

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Piestewa Peak stands at 2,612 feet in elevation. Its prominence is 1,175 feet. We made it up in 36 minutes. At the top we enjoyed the sweeping views of the Phoenix area. No ocean anywhere… just miles and miles of dust and hills. What a difference from the view from Pic Paradis back home! I do have to say that I love both the watery disk of Caribbean mountain top views and the endless layers of mountains in the Southwest.

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We could even see Arizona Christian University (my alma mater), Ben’s and my first apartment, and the Cardinals stadium from the peak.

We met a small, furry resident at the top of the mountain. I don’t see many squirrels in the Valley of the Sun! He’s so cute.

 

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Later, at the bottom, we saw the squirrel’s smaller cousin: a chipmunk.IMG_0305

The top of the mountains are a butterfly’s paradise. Each spring, they flit and flutter at the peaks, away from the oppression of dust and pollution.

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Black Swallowtail
At this time of year, the cactus begin to bloom. My mom says that cactus blossoms are God’s grace on an ugly plant.

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Engelmann Hedgehog
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Ocotillo
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Cholla
They certainly do add beauty to something you’d rather not hug. Still, cactus are interesting and have their own kind of charm, whether they’re blooming or not.

Desert wildflowers are gorgeous. Some years, they barely show up. Others, they carpet the hillsides in vibrant pinks and yellows. They are at the mercy of the droughts.

The quiet stillness of the hills are a refreshing break from the hurry and busyness of city life. I think that’s how we all keep our sanity. A hike to the top of the mountain puts everything in perspective.

 

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Coconut Retrievers

This island is absolutely covered with free-running cats and dogs! They call island mutts Creoles on the French side of the island and coconut retrievers on the Dutch side. Some are not so nice– like the scroungy mutt who nips at the heels of runners– and some are generally loved and just hang around. There’s a yellow dog who lives on the sidewalk of the small shopping district of Maho. He is just a regular fixture, and nobody minds him.

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Many of the students at American University of the Caribbean have adopted a stray or shelter animal. Our neighbor had a cat for a while– she was the sweetest. She used to sit on the window sill and wait for me to walk by and scratch her head through the cracked window. My friend Stacey has two cats from a shelter here. Several students foster animals. I know of at least one who takes puppies home every trip back to the States and finds families for them. Other expats and locals take care of the strays, too. The little league team I help out with adopted a dog who wandered on the field one day. She lives with their coaches, who have two other rescues.

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I had been begging Ben for a puppy all last semester, but as far as I could tell, he wasn’t too interested in that idea. I had pretty much given up on the idea by the time Christmas break rolled around.

Two days before Christmas, while my family was visiting us, Ben slipped off to “run some errands” and didn’t get back until dinner time. He came back with something in a bag. I opened it, and there was a sweet little puppy face looking back at me! We named her Kito, which means “precious gem” in Swahili.

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Kito has been busy keeping us up at night, peeing on the floor, and eating rocks. We’re a little more tired and a little less tidy than usual, but she’s more than worth it. There’s something nice about having something warm and fuzzy to cuddle with. As Lucy Van Pelt would say, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” I’m glad that God made puppies; they certainly are nice to have around.

Terrestrial Fauna on Sint Maarten

The Island of Sint Maarten is home to many exotic plants and animals. From the coconut palms, to the brilliant fish,  to the dozens of lizard varieties, to the flowers, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin’s wildlife is one if its biggest tourist attractions.

The iguanas are by far my favorite Sint Maarten land animal. They are brilliantly colored, they are gigantic, and they let you get pretty close to them in some areas of the island. They also run comically and it’s entertaining to watch them scurry away and leap into the nearest body of water if they become frightened. I wish I could take one home to the U.S.as a pet when we leave!
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This snail was moseying around our apartment one night when I caught it on camera. I would have caught it in a different way if I had realized what it was. This is one of the Caribbean’s most viciously destructive invasive species: the giant African land snail. It is wreaking havoc on our islands and causing concern among environmentalists. Quite an impressive feat for such a slow-moving animal!

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Pardon the fuzzy image below. I think this is a mud crab. He was pretty skittish, so I couldn’t get as good a look at him as I would have liked. This critter’s body was a good six inches long! I found him on the driveway into a friend’s apartment complex. He was intimidating enough to cause uneasiness in one of the residents, who was hesitant to try to get past the crab on his way home.

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What I found on my front porch was a little more exciting and definitely less awesome. This centipede was about four inches long. I started screeching when I saw it, and it scurried away, trying to find refuge in our neighbor’s apartment. I wonder what our neighbor thought about the racket outside as I hollered at Ben to get the bleach and kill it, and then danced around shrieking when the dying centipede writhed and wiggled much too close to my feet! And yet I still thought it was worth it to get close enough to take a photo.

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As long as I am talking about land animals, I certainly cannot neglect to mention the cows. This cow blocked traffic for a few minutes on our way back from Philipsburg one day. We don’t have any cows on the western arm of the island, but up the hills there are quite a few of them.

Cow SXM Philipsburg

These are just a few of the animals living on the island of Sint Maarten. Hopefully, my camera and I will find some more animals to share with you later!

Until then… keep smiling!

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