Belize’s official national animal, the Baird’s tapir, otherwise known as the “mountain cow”, is on the endangered species list just as America’s beloved bald eagle once was. But one man, Celso Poot, is stepping up to the plate to make sure Belize and the rest of the world will forever be able to witness a tapir.
Belize is a tropical country located in Central America that is about the size of Massachusetts. It has some of the highest biodiversity (many different species) per unit of area in the world! Part of that long list of species includes the Baird’s tapir. Tapirs are herbivores that are related to horses and rhinoceroses, weighing up to 550 pounds, with a long flexible snout almost like an elephant (sounds almost like a made-up creature, it’s so unique)! Although tapirs are gentle plant eating giants that are rarely ever seen by humans, it was once thought by Belizeans that they could skin you alive with their snouts! A lot of these myths and stories were debunked to the public by the Belize Zoo (where Celso Poot first started his career), which educates people about the wildlife of their country.
As if the tapirs did not have enough threats facing them, getting hit by oncoming cars poses a new threat to the already endangered species. Many Belizean’s either do not see the grey creatures crossing the grey asphalt, or simply just drive too fast in prime tapir areas. To deal with this dilemma, Mr. Poot monitored which areas were tapir hot spots and created “Tapir Crossing” signs to be placed on roads along these areas, much like the “deer crossing” signs plastered across the United States. A lot of the money for the signs came from his own pocket, or from tapir merchandise he sold through the zoo’s gift shop. He also established an awareness campaign, which alerted drivers about tapirs in the area. He and his team monitored the results of their signs and awareness program and noticed a significant decrease in the average driver’s speed, along with less tapir-vehicle collisions. Two years later and there had only been two collisions recorded along their studied road! Mr. Poot continues with his “tapir crossing” project, but he also delves into tapir research, where he and his team use GPS collars to track their movements over space and time to study how tapirs use the landscape! Long live the Baird’s tapir!
So how can YOU help the Baird’s tapirs???
- Spread awareness! Yes, it’s as simple as that. Follow the Belize Tapir Project Facebook page as a good starting point! Telling a friend or posting a photo/article can go a long way! https://www.facebook.com/BelizeTapirProject/
- Purchase merchandise that benefits the Belize Zoo along with the Belize Tapir Project! Linked below is a super cute tapir stuff animal, along with a “tapir crossing” t-shirt. http://www.belizezoo.org/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=57&category_id=6&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=78 http://www.belizezoo.org/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=60&category_id=11&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=78
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