Monday, January 31, 2005

Jan 31, 2005: Meeting People and Tapirs at the Belize Zoo

There it was! The Belize Zoo, at Milepost 29 on the Western Highway. I'd seen the web site. I'd worked with the zoo's director. I'd heard a lot about April the Tapir. Just being here was like seeing a movie star. The place was shrouded in drizzle and grey light when we arrived. Click on the image to see the sign as we did.

The zoo's entrance would be found some distance from the main road. That I had not envisioned. A little further along there was a sign that read, "The Belize Zoo. Chill out zone."

As soon as we had determined that Sharon Matola was not on the grounds and we wouldn't be able to see her today, we entered the zoo. Our inquiries tuned up Humberto Wohlers (below), the zoo's General Curator and one of my colleagues in the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group. He was warm, gracious, and knowledgeable, and he took us immediately to the tapirs. Little Ceibo, above, was friendly and curious. There is nothing like having your hand nuzzled by one of these animals. My day was made . . .

. . . but it was not over. More famous sights awaited, such as Sharon's hand-painted signs and of course, the "very famous April the Tapir," known and mentioned (as we would learn) throughout the country.

The animals are not the only attractions at the zoo. The plants were lush and beautiful. I was particularly charmed by the attractive plant-shrouded stairs and walkway below.

Humberto took us to see the harpy eagle and a jaguar, and then he ducked into the overhanging brush in April's enclosure to find her and coax her to visit.

Amazing. I had started working with Sharon in 1996 as a new member of the Tapir Specialist Group, and she had invited me to be her Deputy Chair. I'd learned about April, and in an unexpected way, my past and Sharon's present had collided through April. When April was a tiny baby, she'd been found abandoned and injured in the jungle. A screw worm had gotten inside of her through a gaping wound, and it took everything Sharon had to nurse April back to health. In the process of learning what to do with a sick baby tapir, Sharon had contacted Russell Mittermeier, who had a copy of a self-published booklet my first husband and I had produced back in the 1970s. Russ sent it to Sharon, and Sharon was kind enough to tell me it had helped. Long story short, she had heard of me by the time I approached her to join the Specialist Group. My way had been paved. Those were interesting times, and now I was meeting April. Like a star-struck groupie meeting a legend, I couldn't wait to send Kate a postcard to tell her where I was and who I had met.

By the time we left the zoo, the rain had gone and the day had become steamy and bright.

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