The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center is a zoo in Belize, located some 29 miles (47 km) west of Belize City on the Western Highway. Set in 29 acres (12 ha), the zoo was founded in 1983 by Sharon Matola. It is home to more than 175 animals of about 48 species, all native to Belize. The natural environment of Belize is left entirely intact within the zoo. The dense, natural vegetation is separated only by gravel trails through the forest. The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center receives over 68,000 visitors annually, with 15,000 being students, teachers, and parents. The Belize Zoo focuses on educating visitors about the wildlife of Belize through encountering the animals in their natural habitat. The aim is to instill appreciation and pride, and a desire to protect and conserve Belize's natural resources. The zoo was the recipient of Belize Tourism Board's 9th National Tourism Award, "Educational Award of the Year" in 2009.