And so began the Problem Jaguar Rehabilitation Program. Through it, Matola has saved 10 jaguars from certain death. She trains them to be less aggressive, and ships them off to zoos in the U.S. With only 44 jaguars for breeding in U.S. zoos, the new arrivals are needed and welcome.
Matola would rather see the animals left in the wild, but that is clearly not an option.
"If we didn't take this animal out of the wild, he would be killed," she says. "We take him out of the wild. We change his behavior. We send him off to a zoo that is in desperate need of fresh, genetic input, to establish a healthy captive population. He lives happily ever after. The cattle rancher isn't bothered. They can view him in the states, learn about jaguars, and problem jaguar issues that face countries like ours. Who loses?"
Two of those problem jaguars have already been sent to zoos in Milwaukee and Philadelphia, with two more on the way to the U.S.
Because of her groundbreaking work, Matola has been called the Jane Goodall of jaguars, after the pioneering advocate for chimpanzees.
She says it wasn't always like this. Initially, she had to fight skeptics in the worldwide zoo community who saw her as an unqualified outsider.
"I didn't care what people thought," she says. "I knew that there was a very important need for a facility like this, and I just went head on into it. And I think it shows that you can accomplish something if you stay focused, and follow your dreams."
It's no wonder they call the Belize Zoo, "The Best Little Zoo in the World."
For more information: www.belizezoo.org