The tapir is the national animal of Belize and rightly so, because the jewel is home to the healthiest tapir population worldwide. To celebrate that notable achievement, the Belize Zoo today held its annual celebration to honor the tapir. The center of attraction at the activities was the young mountain cow Fuego, in the spotlight more now since the passing of his famous predecessor April. Schools from around the country were invited to be part of Fuego’s birthday party as a way to celebrate our wildlife. Duane Moody headed to the Belize Zoo today and has the story.

Duane Moody, Reporting

National Tapir Day is celebrated annually on April twenty-seventh. At the Belize Zoo, the occasion also marked the birthday of April, the tapir. But with her passing last November, a young mountain cow, Fuego, is taking up that mantle as tapir ambassador. He celebrated his first birthday today and was treated with a cake and a birthday party with over two hundred primary school students. The annual event is organized to raise awareness.

Jamal Andrewin-Bohn

Jamal Andrewin-Bohn, Senior Environmental Educator, Belize Zoo

“Wildlife is pretty much part of Belize’s identity; it is part of our culture, ecology, economy, everything. It is kind of something you can’t separate when you talk about Belize and we decided a long time ago what better way to do that than to highlight the animal that has been chosen as our national animal.  Fuego the tapir, who just turned a year old; we are celebrating his first birthday today and as always it is just to continue that mission of involving the teachers and students of this country. It is an education initiative—raising awareness and putting them in touch with their wildlife.  Fuego came to us last May, May of 2013, and he was roughly about a month old and so we figured that he was born in April like his famous predecessor. Fuego is as his name implies, he was rescued from a forest fire by a farmer up in Cayo. What we think happened, just given his age, he should have been with his mother at that age; he could barely walk. So what happened was his mother and him probably came upon a forest fire and the mother bolted in fear and Fuego was unable to keep up. So he got separated; he was orphaned and this famer found him on the road side making distress call. He gave him a day or so to see if the mother would come back. She didn’t so the day after; he came, picked Fuego up, but him in the back of a pickup and brought him here because he obviously understood that a tapir that age, looking like a fat little watermelon with legs, would still need maternal care.”

The last survey estimates the tapir population in Belize at around eight hundred, which by world standards is healthy when compared to other countries. For persons from the south, however, it is not often that residents see these magnificent mammals and so several schools from Punta Gorda, among others from Belize City and Benque Viejo, were invited to join in the celebration.

Roy Cruz, Standard V, San Miguel Primary School

“I learn that tapirs are heavy; they weigh about up to five hundred and fifty pounds. I learn that one of the tapirs in the Zoo is Fuego and he is one years old.”

Reporter

“Now the tapir is the national animal of Belize. Have you been able to see this animal outside of the zoo?”

Roy Cruz

Roy Cruz

“No, this is the first time I am seeing it. This is the first time I’m coming to the zoo.”

Reporter

“When you go back home…your sisters, your mom…what would you tell them about this experience?”

Roy Cruz

“I would tell them that I saw how the tapirs live and how much they weigh and how they look like.”

Genario Rash

Genario Rash, Standard VI Student, Indian Creek Primary School

“I learn about tapir and that Fuego is one years old. That he was captured by fire and was separated from his mother.”

There are four species of tapir throughout the world and via an awareness campaign, Senior Environmental Educator, Jamal Andrewin-Bohn, says that the Belize Zoo has been working on reducing the number of traffic fatalities involving the national animal.

Jamal Andrewin-Bohn

“Belize basically serves as one of the last strongholds for the tapir. It is an endangered species even though it has this great status. It is actually extinct in parts of Mexico and in Salvador; they have no Central American tapirs left. The threats they face are usually habitat destruction, hunting—even though it is completely illegal, it is being done; practiced minimal in areas that aren’t as policed—and here in Belize, we have noticed that they do get in highway collisions with larger vehicles specifically on the Burrell Boom Road; that’s where a majority of them happen. At night this is when they are most active.  As a result of that, we managed to erect tapir crossing signs at the hotspots just to remind drivers that there are wildlife crossing the roads especially at night that just so it is in the back of their minds that they really should be in the speed limits at least.”

Duane Moody for News Five.

Channel 5



Fuego's eating special cake.