Sharon Matola nominated for international award
The director and founder of the “Best Little Zoo in the World”, the Belize Zoo, Sharon Matola, has been nominated for world’s foremost award for animal conservation - the biennial 2012 Indianapolis Prize.
Matola, an avid animal lover, has joined the ranks of 29 of her fellow conservationists who have likewise devoted their lives to “saving the Earth’s endangered species”.
“I feel fortunate to have been nominated, and that feeling is only matched by the honor I feel to have been able to do this work at all,” she said.
Matola has been recognized for her dedication to educating both Belizean citizens as well as the rest of the world about Belize’s wildlife.
Among her many awareness-building campaigns, including those on behalf of the endangered Central American Tapir, and the harpy eagle, Matola is largely known for her work to protect and promote the Jaguar species.
She had also gained international recognition for her stance against an “unsound development of a dam project” that threatened the reproductive grounds of the Northern & Central American scarlet macaw, a position she further promulgated in her book “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw.”
Recently awarded the Meritorious Service Award by the Government of Belize, Matola now stands ready, upon the nod of the “Prize Jury”, to be the recipient of both the $100,000 prize and the Lily Medal - an original work of art that signifies the laureate’s work to protect the world’s most threatened animals.
The winner will be announced next year and honored at the next Indianapolis Prize Gala, scheduled for September 29, 2012, at the JW Marriot in downtown Indianapolis.
The Nominating Committee will shortlist to six finalists, who will be announced in spring 2012.
Elephant advocate Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who seeks to encourage others to join the fight against ivory poachers and traders, won the 2010 prize.
When Sharon Matola arrived in Belize, she discovered that most of the nation's schoolchildren couldn't recognize Belize's national animal, the tapir. So she set out to change that -- by creating the country's very first zoo.
When American Sharon Matola first arrived in Belize to work on a documentary film in 1981, she was entranced by the country’s exotic wildlife, but surprised to discover that most of the country’s citizens didn’t know much about it.
“I would go into schoolrooms when I first came to Belize, and ask kids to draw me a picture of a tapir, and they couldn’t do it,” she told ABC News. The tapir, a bizarre-looking mammal with a long snout, is Brazil’s national animal.
Matola decided it was time to raise awareness of Belize’s beautiful wild animals. How? By creating Belize’s very first zoo.
Such an undertaking is never simple, but it didn’t help that Matola had no experience in the field. “I didn’t care what people thought,” she told ABC. “I knew that there was a very important need for a facility like this, and I just went head on into it.”
The zoo has grown from its humble beginnings, and today is home to more than 100 animals, and is known as “The Best Little Zoo in the World.” Though passionate about all of the animals, Matola’s biggest focus is on the jaguar: She has saved the lives of 10 of the endangered species and introduced them to breeding programs in U.S. zoos, leading some to christen her the “Jane Goodall of Belize” for her conservation efforts.