Round River’s pilot program in Belize welcomed our inaugural student cohort for the Fall 2021 semester. Join us in Belize to significantly contribute to conservation efforts in improving jaguar/human conflict, sustainable agroforestry as a buffer zone near core protected areas, and taste authentic Mayan chocolate.

In partnership with Ya’axché Conservation Trust, Round River operates in the Maya Golden Landscape of southern Belize, an ancient socio-ecological system that harbors many of the region’s iconic species such as jaguar and Harpy Eagle. Ya’axche’ co-manages three protected areas, including Bladen Nature Reserve, one of the wildest forest tracts in Mesoamerica, Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, where they hold a concession for cacao cultivation in an innovative project aimed at discouraging illegal activity, and Golden Stream Corridor Preserve.

Students will support Ya’axche’ with a diverse set of conservation initiatives, from scientific research and monitoring to agroforestry production to environmental education in local Mayan communities.

Belize’s Maya Golden Landscape is a vital link within the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, hosting intact broadleaf forests that stretch from the Maya Mountains to coastal mangroves and the Caribbean waters of the Mesoamerican Reef. 

Our Belize student program is Round River’s newest international program, which gives participants the opportunity to make important connections and influence the direction of Round River’s work in Central America for years or decades to come.

RRCS first began work in Belize in 1994 when we were invited to conduct research related to ongoing human-wildlife conflict by the Chief Forest Officer of Belize. Round River then conducted preliminary studies and brought attention to the potential problems in characterizing livestock predation by jaguar as the result of jaguars in need of management.

Round River is excited to continue our work in Belize and partner with such a significant organization as the Ya’axché Conservation Trust. Round River staff and students will provide assistance to the conservation activities of the Ya’axché Conservation Trust in their work to protect the Maya Golden Landscape and the communities that depend on it. Started by local Mayan leaders in 1997 and now recognized as a leading Belize conservation organization, the Ya’axché Conservation Trust works primarily with indigenous communities to preserve the Maya Golden Landscape. Alongside these local communities, Ya’axché fosters sustainable livelihoods, assists with protected area management for biodiversity conservation, and provides vital environmental education.

Program Dates

Fall semester – 12 weeks mid-September to mid-December

Spring semester – 12 weeks late January to late April

Program Costs

Semester programs:

  • $22,150 includes tuition, room and board, project research fees and equipment, ground transportation, and evacuation insurance
  • $750 Westminster University registration fee

Our semester programs are just under three months long (84 days to be exact). For that duration and the 15 hours of semester credit, Round River is affordable compared to other options of shorter length and fewer credits. And every day is packed!

Students are in remote places where there aren’t a lot of options to spend money, which is a savings that can add up over the three months. Except for personal expenses, once on site, Round River takes care of most expenses including food, board, and in-country travel for the duration of the program. Federal financial aid can be used for our programs, and we offer our Edward Abbey Scholarship as well. If finances are a concern, please contact us. We’ll work with every student to explore opportunities that will allow them to get out in the field and make a difference with us.

Courses Offered (15 Semester Credits):

  • Natural History
  • Applied Conservation Biology
  • Introduction to Biological Field Methods
  • Applied Ecology
  • Humans and the Environment

Our blog provides an ongoing log and history of students’ experiences over the years.

There is no better resource to understand what a Round River Student Program is like and what to expect.

What to Expect

This program provides an exciting opportunity to assist the Ya’axché Conservation Trust work with Belize’s indigenous communities to preserve the Maya Golden Landscape. Operating out of field research camps, students will spend their time working alongside Ya’axché rangers and scientists conducting long-term ecological monitoring and habitat restoration efforts.

Our academics complement the field research and are designed to be interactive and hands-on. Students can expect to spend a few hours a day working on their field journals, reading and discussing relevant articles with the group, having lectures from program instructors, and working on assignments and essays. Guest lectures, when possible, will also add to students’ understanding of conservation and land-use planning in the area. Each program culminates with a final written research paper, focusing on one aspect of the project, as well as a presentation in the community.

Students will spend most days on foot conducting research in the field. Academics may be delivered in the morning, afternoon, or evening, depending on the research schedule. Evenings are spent at camp. Around camp, students will help with tasks such as cooking, cleaning, entering data, and maintaining equipment.

Our base camps provide students with a comfortable place to sleep (covered areas for tents), cook (kitchen shelter), gather for lectures and meals, and store gear. Camps also offer such amenities as running water, cool showers, latrines, gas cooking stoves, and solar electricity. Students sleep primarily in tents, though they may stay in bunkhouses at some field locations.

Round River student programs are unique, with no two programs being the same. As our research in Belize is very closely tied to the dynamic needs of local partners, students will participate in a wide range of projects. This allows students to learn a diversity of field methods, become familiar with a vast number of species, hone field journaling techniques, and develop a deep and balanced understanding of conservation in Maya Golden Landscape.

Because of the nature of our programs, schedules may change frequently, so students must be prepared to be flexible and adaptable. This is the reality of field-based conservation. Students should arrive with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn and make the most of the experience. This program challenges students in multiple ways, yet rewards them with an incredible opportunity to explore Belize’s natural landscape in depth.

Research Objectives

At the heart of Ya’axché’s work is Protected Areas Management. Managing the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve and co-managing with the Belize Forest Department the Bladen Nature Reserve and Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, the Ya’axché ranger team conducts patrols, monitors biodiversity and enforces protected area laws.

Threats to the Maya Golden Landscape include predator/livestock interactions and unsustainable agricultural practices such as excessive burning, agrochemicals, and the cultivation of riverbanks and steep slopes. This deforestation further exacerbates the downstream pollution of biologically rich coral reefs. In response, Ya’axché is demonstrating to local communities that there are sustainable alternatives that can benefit them and the environment by providing assistance to small farmers to better manage and diversify their farms.

While working with local people to understand the benefits of protected areas, the Ya’axché rangers monitor the status of large mammal and bird populations throughout the Maya Golden Landscape. Keeping track of indicator species allows Ya’axché to use the science-based Integrated Landscape Management approach to conservation, a practice of planning how land will be used and resources will be managed in the most efficient and sustainable manner.

The group will explore the Maya Golden Landscape mainly by foot, utilizing trails (whenever possible) to access forests, mountain streams, and mangrove sites. Students, depending on the season, will participate in a combination of the following fieldwork activities:

  • Surveillance of protected areas incursion hotspots through the use of modified camera trap surveys, including field data collection and data processing.
  • Human-Jaguar conflict mitigation measures implementation and monitoring
  • Resident and Neotropical migrant bird monitoring (targeting indicator species)
  • Phenological monitoring of threatened tree species in the field and propagation research for restoration efforts with targeted species.
  • Establishment of experimental regeneration plots for non-timber forest products such as Attalea cohune
  • Bee sampling to establish a baseline inventory for species diversity, abundance, and distribution across Maya Golden Landscape
  • Soil health and crop yield assessments along gradients of shade in cacao agroforestry farms
  • Burrow counts for medium-sized mammals such as Cuniculus paca
  • Acoustic monitoring of bats within differing gradients of disturbance in the Maya Golden Landscape
  • Freshwater macroinvertebrate sampling
  • Visits to communities and agroforestry farms and monitoring of biodiversity in farming landscapes

Student Projects

Fall 2021

An Inventory of Bee Species and Flower Interaction in the Maya Golden Landscape. By Prashanti Limbu and Sam Hare Steig

Jaguar Individual Identification and Monitoring in the Bladen Nature Reserve & Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve. By Betsy Abrahamson and Gordy Scott

Maya Mountain Cacao Concession 2021 Wet Season Camera Trap Survey. By Ella Miller-Hodge and Christine Bahlinger

Vegetation and Bird Diversity and richness in Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, Belize. By Lucas Cantrell and Lia Ivanick


Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Please apply early for the best chance of being accepted into the program of your choice.