On Sunday, September 21, 2008, I received e-mail wth the subject line: "Tapirs at Georgetown Zoo." Wow, did THAT bring back memories! Here is the reaffirming letter from Julia and Patrick Petipas that accompanied the subject:
We used to be members of the original tapir club years ago, and have retained our interest in tapirs. Last week we unexpectedly saw the fruits of a Tapir Preservation Fund project.
Patrick's a pilot and now works a Georgetown, Guyana route pretty regularly. I went along with him last time. Late one afternoon we ourselves with some free time and all the tourist attractions we knew of closed for the day; a taxi driver suggested we visit the zoo. We were hesitant, since too many zoos, especially in poorer countries, are sad and depressing. But he insisted it was nice, and that the park where it was located was worth a look even if we didn't like the zoo.
It was a little depressing, but it seemed evident that zookeepers cared and were trying to do right with what they had. We also saw a tapir area, but no tapirs.
As we were heading for the exit, close to the sunset closing time, we saw that the tapirs had emerged so we went to see them. And to our surprise, they approached, snouts sniffing at us curiously. The female seemed to be particularly interested in me, and especially friendly staying near us for as long as we stood there and following to the edge of their enclosed area when we had to leave. They both seemed to be healthy and well cared-for. As we were leaving, we noticed a sign on the roof over their pool that said funding had been provided by the Tapir Preservation Fund and asked ourselves if this was the same organization, and if it was still in existence.
I'm very glad to see that it is, and that the Georgetown Zoo project, apparently one of the first projects funded ten years ago, is still helping out tapirs! I think we'll be rejoining Club Tapir.
Julia & Patrick
The Georgetown tapirs were, indeed, one of Club Tapir's first projects. My initial thought had been to help provide funding for projects working with wild tapir conservation, when I was contacted by Karl Kranz, then Senior Vice-President of Animal Affairs for the Philadelphia Zoo, asking if we'd take on a special-needs zoo project. It was gratifying to be able to help, and the voters liked being able to see the tapirs that would benefit from their donations. In October 1998, the Georgetown Zoo tapirs won their first vote (and dollar award) on Club Tapir as a project in need of funding. The zoo staff was caring, but there was no money for badly-needed improvements. I'd been contacted by Karl Kranz about helping via Club Tapir, and the Club Tapir voters were enthusiastic. By July 1999, we had pitched in to raise $1,465.00 for the project. ZCOG nearly matched the sum under the directorship of Dan Hilliard, and Donna Shepherd supplied us with photos, some of which are below. You can read more about it in this issue of TPF News, SEE PHOTOS OF SOME OF THE IMPROVEMENTS, and get a glimpse of what it's like to move 400-pound tapirs without a crane!
During their visit in 2008, Julia and Patrick were so enamored of the tapirs' friendliness and interest in humans, they simply related to them and didn't think of taking photos. Julia says Patrick is going back soon and will be sure to bring the camera. As a comparison, I'm posting a few photos below of the old zoo in the late 1990s. You can see that the area is lush and green the way tapirs like it. The staff is caring and affectionate towards the tapirs, but the structures are old and in need of repair. These pictures were taken in 1999. Julia and Patrick will be sending updated ones very soon and I'll post them for you.
Georgetown Zoo, Guyana, 1999