Friday, April 03, 2009

Sixty-three beautiful photos of Mona the baby Baird's tapir

I've just finished uploading and captioning 63 photos of Mona the Baird's tapir from her first formal photo shoot in December 1970. I think it was the day after she arrived from Panama. She still had the rope around her neck from her trip up on a plane in a large crate. We waited until the photo shoot was over to take it off, because we didn't want her to run into the street! My brother-in-law at that time, Bruce Wilson, came out to Claremont from Los Angeles to take the pictures. He was either still at Art Center School for photography or had recently graduated, so the quality of these photos is excellent. I finally found a scanner that will do a nice job scanning negatives and slides, and I borrowed it. I'm very excited, because it's the first time I've seen many of these pictures in a format larger than a 35 mm contact sheet, and I've never had such nice pictures of Mona to put online until now. This should be the beginning of being able to convert other tapir pictures from my files when I can find the time!

Briefly, the story behind Mona is that Russ Mittermeier (later founder of Conservation International) found her in a market in Panama while he was still in college and had been studying on Barro Colorado Island. The people were selling her for only $50.00. He knew her real value as an endangered species, and because he had met us and Stanley Tapir, he figured we'd give her a good home. He put her on a plane and shipped her up to the US. We only had to pay her airfare and the $50 he'd paid for her. We suspected she was being sold, as is typical, for a pet until she grew big enough to kill for food. Even in 1970, if the captors had known what she was worth to a zoo or animal collector, they would have been able to get about $3,000 to $3,500 for her. We were so lucky, and so was she! We raised her to the age of about 8 months, and then gave her to the San Diego Zoo where she lived to the age of 24. She had a number of babies, which were traded as far away as Japan and China. One went to the Zoo in Santa Barbara, California, and I was able to see her.

Mona was only about the fifth Baird's tapir in captivity in North America at the time we got her. There had been one or two in much earlier years, but they were gone. In the early 1970s, the Los Angeles Zoo had a pair, and the San Diego Zoo had a pair. The pair at Los Angeles were potential breeders, but the pair at San Diego were not showing any signs of breeding, although they were old enough. The staff thought that Mona could help produce a viable US-born Baird's tapir, and in fact, shortly after she arrived at the zoo the original female got pregnant. I won't try to figure out tapir psychology on that level, but her presence may have had something to do with it. When she was older, she became a second mate for Titus.

Growing up, Mona was a sweetie. Stanley tapir was a biter from Day 1, and I had to consider him potentially dangerous, although I loved him a lot. Mona never bit, and she liked sucking on fingers. You can see her doing that in one of these photos. At the age of eight months, when we drove her down to San Diego in our van, we didn't cage her, and the only way I could keep her settled down for the hour's drive was to let her suck on my fingers again. It was a little daunting with all those teeth, but she was very good about it. I was so sad to let her go, but it was the right thing to do. Anyway, you can imagine how I felt seeing these photos scanned so beautifully. I have more photos of her and of Stanley that I'll get around to scanning someday. They're of lesser quality unless a long-lost proof sheet turns up, so getting a chance to work from these negatives was quite a treat. Enjoy the photo album, and thanks for visiting!

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

those are awesome photos. your stories about individual tapirs are very interesting.
i still can't get over the fact that some people eat tapirs, but actually i don't understand eating animals at all.

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