** HAPPY WORLD/ NATIONAL TAPIR DAY **
Truly one of the most iconic images in the Zoo's history. See 30 years of conservation in Belize through the eyes of April the tapir and all her loving fans and friends. Today we celebrated National Tapir Day, and April's 30th birthday! She remains the oldest living female tapir on record in the world, and is a national treasure, icon, and champion for her species.
Aging April Still Likes A Good Party
April the Tapir, is probably the best known of the animals at the Belize Zoo. She’s seen a lot of its history, and she’s become the icon in Belize’s culture for the elevation of her species as one of Belize’s national symbols.
Every Year, the zoo holds a major birthday bash in her honor, and this year, as she turned the big 3-0, it was even more special. 7News attended and Daniel Ortiz has that report.
Daniel Ortiz Reporting
At the Belize Zoo, birthday parties are extravagant events, and the 30th birthday celebration for April, the Tapir, was no different. Students from all over the country gathered in her honor at the Zoo.
Keeping mind that this lady’s life span is being measured in human years, she’s outlived her life expectancy by 5.
That is impressive not only because she’s survived so long, but also because when she was just a calf, she had to be rescued from a parasite infestation, which almost claimed her life.
And now, she’s the poster-girl for her endangered species residing in Belize.
Jamal Andrewin - Bohn - Environmental Educator, Belize Zoo
"We have to keep noting that April is the oldest living female in captivity in the world. That is a huge achievement. Normally in the wild they live about 20 - 25 years. I think the record is at 34 years so we're hoping that she beats that record. From April got here 30 years ago has been an ambassador of her species. April is a Belizean icon - everyone knows her.
Sharon Matola - Founding Director, Belize Zoo
"Thirty years of April is astounding. I'm in the clouds just having the crowd of people here and their enthusiasm . I realize the impact - probably more than anyone else - that animal has had for our nation. They are important animals, they are endangered and they are ours."
Jamal Andrewin - Bohn
"The great thing about her is she's large, she's gentle, charismatic - she comes right up to the fence when she's out. There are areas where you can see Tapirs in a natural environment and learn about how magnificent the species is and how important it is for our forest. April is the name you attach to Tapirs in Belize and that's her job here. The emulator of importance her species has in our country."
April is important as a symbol that the importance of Tapirs to Belize should never be lost on the public.
Jamal Andrewin - Bohn
"To make it easy for the kids to understand - they make the forest grow, that is simply what they do. They disperse seeds and they recylce nutrients back into their environment. They are bio-indicators because they are a massive mamal. If something is wrong in the forest, Tapirs are one of the first ones to be affected. That's their value to us even in our culture; we're still a country that depend heavily on the rain forest. When you hear Rain Forest you think animals like Tapirs, Jaguars, Toucans, it's linked. You can't have one without the other. Our Tourism Industry is based heavily on eco-tourism. People come to Belize for the cayes, the forest and the Maya sites; all natural type things."
So, with that goal to keep the importance of Tapirs in the national consciousness, the Belize Zoo held a competition to involve the public in April’s birthday celebration.
Jamal Andrewin - Bohn
"Because it was April's 30th - we decided it needed to be big and we needed to involve the people of Belize. We keep saying that the Zoo is for the children of Belize. The parties that we have for 'Junior the Jaguar' and April; we decided everyone had to be a part of it in some kind of way to make it last like a legacy. We ran a very small slogan competition country wide. We asked students to submit a catchy slogan summarizing April and the species on a whole and celebrating the fact that she's 30 this year and everything she's done for the country. We had four young ladies from the Buena Vista Government School in the west and they submitted a slogan that had exactly what we wanted that summarized thirty years of April. It's '30 years of April. 30 years of Appreciation, Protection, Respect, Integrity and Love. Happy 30th Birthday April' and that is what it was and that is why we are honoring them today. They said it better than anyone could have at the Zoo."
The celebration was filled to capacity with entertainment from Panerific Steel Band from Our Lady of Guadeloupe Primary School.
The students also were entertained by the high-flying acrobatics of Belize Tumblers.
But no party is complete without birthday cakes, and April got 4 of them.
When it was time for the students to sing her happy birthday, the old girl left her morning soak in her pond, and stepped forward to greet her well-wishers.
The institution that April has become in the Belizean Culture was best displayed with a ceremonial unveiling of 2 photographs which featured Claire Gibson who was only 3 years old when she first visited April. Gibson returned this year to visit her again, and the passage of time is striking.
"April was just a pup and little Claire was three years old and that pictures shows the inquisitveness, interest and excitement on a little kid's face. It's an example of hundreds and thousands of children that have been to the zoo; they learn about their animals and they leave feeling national pride about their country."
Over 150 students from Buena Vista and Golden Stream communities were invited as some of our special invited guests. Today was also recognized by the Zoo as National Tapir Day.
Belize Zoo’s April, the manatee celebrates a milestone
To many of you watching this, the news that a new Miss Belize was crowned today will come as a big surprise. The venue was the Belize Zoo and Education Center and the occasion was a very special one – the thirtieth birthday of a celebrity who over the years has become the face of the zoo. Today News Five was invited to the birthday celebration of April the Tapir, and joined the many friends and guests there for what is always a memorable event. Freelance reporter Mike Rudon has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
One of the highlights of today’s birthday bash for April included her symbolic crowning as Miss Belize, complete with crown and sash. It was actually a papier-mache replica of the famous tapir, and the ceremonial crowning was done by four students of the Buena Vista school in Spanish Lookout, who won a contest by choosing the perfect slogan to represent April.
Angela Amaya, Buena Vista School
“We wanted it so the name of the tapir, April, could stand out and everybody could see the name of the tapir and we wanted to show our respect for her because she is the national animal of Belize.”
April has come a long, long way from her arrival at the zoo thirty years ago.
Sharon Matola, Director, Belize Zoo
“She was found dying by the river. She had a bad, bad infestation from a parasite and she was brought to me in the hands of a hunter. That’s big she was; we all thought she was going to die.”
But she survived, and today devoured her special birthday cake while she was first feted by the Panerrifix steel band from Belmopan and then serenaded by the guests invited to share her special day. But while it is April’s day, the woman who saved her life and cherished her these past thirty years was justifiably excited and proud.
“Thirty years of April is astounding. I think just having the crowd of people here and the enthusiasm. I have realized the impact one animal has had on our nation. They are important animals, they are endangered and they are ours. And it is events like these that will make sure that these kids, when they have kids, they can know that our national animal is still in our forest and that we can be very proud of that. And we will be.”
Matola says that Belize should be a role model for the rest of the world, as the work which is being done at the zoo is important and even more than that, it is being done right.
“Somebody said to me a long time ago that the work we are doing now will become even that much more important twenty years down the road. And that’s how I feel. What we are trying to save is all under threat. Our animals need our protection and they are important for the health of the people. You cannot separate wild life conservation from the good life that a person needs. Conservation and development, hand in hand uniformed. And I think we could achieve that and I think that Belize could be a role model for the world on how it is done and done right.”
In the early days Matola says that it was the excitement of the kids that got her through many challenging times. That excitement was still visible today, in both the children and in those who are passionate about their work at the zoo.
“When it started, who was gonna take me seriously? I was a kid and starting a zoo. But you know what, what kept me going were the people of Belize. When I started to get the kids to come in and they would come back to their houses and sit over dinner and be so excited about seeing animals, it sort of spread little by little like a carpet of flowers. Important things don’t happen overnight and I was ready to commit my life to it and boy am I ever glad I did.”
Jamal Andrewin-Bohn – Environmental Educator
“It’s the finest hour for myself as an educator here at the zoo and for the whole department—I’m sure for Miss Sharon as well—this is what we live for; this is what we plan for, April’s Birthday. We got Junior and all the others. They may be more famous than April internationally, but April will always be the Belizean icon. Even when she is dead, she’ll have that legacy put on being our national animal. Despite the weather, it kind of brings your jaw full circle and that you’ve done this and instill it in some of the kids and it is passed on in that way. It is something that goes on every year and they keep coming back for the same. We have schools competing to get here now. They get frustrated when they can’t make it for April’s birthday. So that is the kind of thing that we want; the energy the positive feeling when they think about animals, about our wildlife. It is all about involvement; that’s what we want.”
Ruth Gonzalez, Buena Vista School
“I’m proud to be here because it’s the national animal of Belize.”
Tania Galindo, Buena Vista School
“I’m happy because we all need to protect our national animal and today is her birthday and we need to accept it.”
Angela Amaya, Buena Vista School
“I am excited that it had been thirty days that the tapir, the national animal of Belize. I never thought we were going to make it.
Alva Cabrera, Buena Vista School
“I’m proud of being here in this day celebrating the tapir birthday. I never thought that we would make it because I thought our logo wasn’t good enough. This is because the slogan was not good enough. But then protection is the best thing and then we are trying to protect the tapir and then we have to respect them.”
Schools from all over the country will be spending time with April on this memorable day, eating cake, playing games and just hanging with a Belizean icon, still looking great at thirty. Mike Rudon for News Five.
And if you think that April is getting a whole lot of attention, well she is, and she deserves it. After all, she is the oldest female tapir living in captivity in the world, which is quite a distinction. Also of note is that Belize has the largest population of tapirs in Central America.