Friday, March 07, 2008

Belize: Sharon Matola's attempt to stop the dam and save the scarlet macaw and Baird's tapir

This book (The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird) is bound to be an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking read. I'm going to buy my copy from today. Sharon's comment to me was: "I hope it leads into a major discussion in many circles about the need to work to preserve what is left."

In small part, The Tapir Preservation Fund helped Sharon in this struggle through your donations to Club Tapir. We did what we could. I wish we could have done more. It was a long and arduous struggle for her, often dangerous and lonely. She is a fighter, and only someone of her calibre could have continued the fray. In the end, sadly, they built the dam.

I'm looking forward to reading the book. When it first came out a few weeks ago I tried to find it at Barnes and Noble, but could only remember the title of the review, not the book. The New York Times Book Review by Elizabeth Royte was powerful. The name? "Of Crime and the River." That tells you something. Discover magazine has just posted an excerpt from the book online. It talks about Sharon, who is as colorful as the macaw. I've met Sharon several times and worked with her when she was Chair of the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group and I was her Deputy Chair. It was a memorable time, a privilege. Anyone who knows Sharon knows that she is a tremendous advocate of tapirs and knows how much she has done for their conservation in Belize. This is, of course, how I learned about the dam and the situation. Saving the tapirs in that area was important, but even more critical was the fact that the Macal River (named for the macaw) provide the only known breeding grounds for a subspecies of scarlet macaw, Ara macao cyanoptera, estimated in 1999 to number less than 200 in Belize. We saw the area on a trip to Belize a couple of years ago, and I can only say it's a terrible shame that the dam was finally built. I'll post some photos of the area when I can, or try to get some.

Historical info and a few letters on The Tapir Gallery web site


Another and much longer excerpt of the book appears online on the New York Times site under "First Chapters," and here is an article online about Belize by the book's author, Bruce Barcott.

Extinction: This review (Our Broken Home) by Barcott is also well worth reading.

Here's another commentary on the book, including some interesting facts.

May 30, 2008: Having now finished the book (I'm posting this on May 30, 2008, but I finished it a few weeks ago, I can say it was an amazingly good read - one that you don't want to end. It reads like a good novel. I learned more about Sharon, more about her fight against the dam and the reasons it became such a struggle. Really, it is worth hearing the story. Among other things, I learned much I didn't know about macaws and their habitat. I can't think of more enticing words at the moment, but the details of the book were fascinating. There is yet another review of this book, published today. It's worth reading the review, but also the first comment following the review. It seems Belize has begun to move on with a new level of governmental integrity. While the message may be, "Don't judge the new Belize by the old cover," it is still a valid and valuable book. It's a story that should be told for any number of reasons. I am sure that it often takes the light of awareness and people brave enough to speak out to create positive changes. The macaws may never come back, and it's a sad chapter, but harpy eagles once again soar over the Mayan ruins and the jungles of Belize, and this is thanks to the woman who will not give up.

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