Badass Auntie here, reporting for San Pedro Scoop. It’s an honour and a privilege to be bringing you the story from Belize Zoo’s celebration of National Tapir Day, or as I like to call it – the day I get peed on by a mountain cow.
I had more than one badass mission to complete though and the most important was a delivery of handmade chocolate tapirs from The Belize Chocolate Factory in my special chicken bag.
More about those later. Let’s start like normal people do – from my arrival at the zoo. Something about this bus made me think I was in the right place.
I must admit that I’m a bit of a Belize Zoo groupie and so I was excited to be greeted by the first caged animal I always see when I arrive, Edson, the every cheerful guy who will sell you your tickets into the best little zoo in the world.
Although it was a tapir jubilee at the zoo today, I have the sneaking suspicion they don’t have any tapir outfits in which to dress unsuspecting volunteers. For people, who I know were fast on their way to dehydration, they were having a little bit too much fun on the bouncy castle. Seriously, as soon as adults are in a country that doesn’t ban them from the children’s play areas, this is what happens.
The tapir, as Belize’s national animal, used to have a bit of a bad rap. Stories of its ability to skin a human alive with its long nose were greatly exaggerated. As a Badass Auntie myself, it would be a myth I’d be inclined to perpetuate, but I know it’s not good for tapirs, so I uncharacteristically button my lip about this one. I also admit that I am tapir crazy. So much so that I actually had a tapir tattoo done two days before the party. Isn’t that what all girls do before their boyfriend’s birthday?
I wasn’t the only one there going crazy for tapir body art though. Here’s Ceslo Poot, Belize Zoo’s resident tapir biologist and Operations Manager, getting his tapir on.
Not to be outdone, of course (I’m not suggesting that there was some serious tapir envy going on today, but…yeah, I’m suggesting it) General Curator of the zoo, Humberto Wohlers, throws some tapir shade.
This event is a big deal in Belize and it’s all because of Belize Zoo Founder and Director, Sharon Matola and arguably the most famous tapir in the world, April.
April was born in 1983 and was very poorly when she arrived at the Belize Zoo. Sharon nursed her back to health and saved her life, quite literally sleeping beside her every night until she recovered. It’s important to know that the tapirs at Belize Zoo are all rescued. Sharon, with her indomitable spirit, convinced the Prime Minister of Belize that tapirs were important enough to have a national day in their honour and as a result, April’s birthday, the 27th of April, became not only National Tapir Day, but also World Tapir Day. Sadly April died in 2012, but her legacy remains and, of course, another tapir, rescued by the zoo, had to step in to fill her oddly shaped, four-toe shoes.
If one could sing a Tapir gospel, it would be Sharon, who celebrates each year with her Mountain Cow Song. Here she is joined by a bunch of young humans to spread the tapir joy.
This is a big day in Belize and as such, there were dignitaries in attendance. I managed to papparazi Sharon chatting to His Excellency Carlos Quesnal, Mexican Ambassador to Belize.
Despite the fact that the whole point of this day for me was simply my obsession with tapirs, the purpose of this day is all about education. Tapirs are endangered. They used to be hunted for meat but fortunately, due to the work of Sharon and the zoo and, quite frankly, to the fact that once you get to know tapirs, you can’t help but love them, it’s very rare for people to hunt tapirs and it’s widely frowned upon – not to mention illegal. The big threat to tapirs in Belize, aside from human encroachment, seems to be bad drivers. So now they are focusing on a great campaign to teach this generation and the next to ‘Brake for Tapirs’.
You can get your very own Tapir Crossing t-shirts from the zoo with ‘I Brake for Tapirs’ on the back. They are badass. I have one.
Let’s look at some of fun, entertaining and educational things that occurred. First I’ll present you with a tapir skull.
Here are the girls who front the brilliant Mahogany Heights Dreams Marching Band. I’m sure band was never this cool when I was a kid.
And here are the guys. Dudes!
Tapir corn-hole anyone?
The schools in attendance represented by creating their own educational posters. Here’s one of my favourites. If said with a Belizean accent ‘care’ and ‘here’ most certainly do rhyme.
Then it’s time for the annual crowning of Miss Belize. One of the highlights of the day. Ta da!
I believe I mentioned earlier that this is a really big day for not just tapirs, not just Belize Zoo, not just the children, but for the country and so the Belize Defense Force did their part with a skydive and aerial display just for us! Well, just for everyone else. I went for an ice cream and missed it. Luckily the zoo photographer, James Lewis, got a great shot for me. Thanks James!
Let’s get back to the celebration thing, because at this point I’m thinking ‘Where’s the cake?’ The delightful Jamal Andrewin-Bohn, Director of Education and tapir cake maker extraordinaire ensured a grand appearance for Fuego’s special cake.
Fuego’s opinion of the cake was pretty clear.
The children got what they’d all sat in the heat all day for, patiently putting up with adults educating them. This was the moment that made it all worthwhile.
A very lucky few of the children even got the opportunity of a one on one experience with Fuego. There are very few people in the world who have been this up close and personal with a Baird’s tapir and this little girl can now count herself as one of those special human beings. Tapir’s may be unbelievably cute and cartoon like but we must never forget that they are wild animals. I often joke about wanting one as a pet, but it’s a joke and nothing more. Tapirs are an important and vital part of Belize’s natural landscape. They are not pets and they certainly cannot be ‘tamed’. These interactions with the animals are all monitored and managed carefully by Sharon and all of her highly experienced and well-trained team to make sure that everyone, especially the tapirs, find this a positive and enriching experience and are kept safe and happy.
This is what a happy tapir looks like. Not only did Fuego bless me with his pee (something tapirs do to people they love…actually they just do it to any random person, so I’m not as special as I’d like to think) but when it was time for me to leave his enclosure, he decided to chill out in front of the gate. Moving a tapir when he’s clearly comfortable and relaxed isn’t quite so easy.
The monkeys in the neighbouring enclosure had a good laugh at my expense.
And so it was time to leave. But, wait a minute. What about those chocolates? Well, those chocolates, hand made by the fabulous people at Belize Chocolate Factory, located right here in San Pedro, have been a project in the planning for a year or so. So, everyone was so excited to finally see them and they proved a fantastic reminder to all of those in attendance that the only tapir you should ever eat is a chocolate one. Being delicate in design, only a dozen made it and those were given as prizes to the students that volunteered to sing the Mountain Cow Song with Sharon.
As I left the zoo, there, across the road was a this huge and gorgeous poster, which serves as a reminder of how important this hard conservation work and environmental education is. The Belize Zoo and so many other fantastic organisations are our Belizean environmental superheroes. Badass Auntie approves this message!
When I got home, I rocked my dogs’ world with the smell of tapir pee on my leg. I don’t think they’ll ever be the same.
From SanPedroScoop: THANK YOU SO MUCH BADASS AUNTIE. BEST BLOG EVER! LOVE, LOVE LOVE IT. I was sad to miss Fuego’s 3rd birthday…for his 1st and 2nd birthdays (and lots more zoo parties/Belize zoo greatness) check below. And for more Badass Auntie (not for the kiddies), check out her blog.
She is badass.