Tonight we note the passing of Belize's most beloved public animal; that's April the Tapir. The media - along with about two generations of school children - celebrated her birthday every year in April, and tonight, her passing is also news.
The zoo reports that she died peacefully in her sleep this morning at the age of 30. She was in the company of keepers that had cared for her for many years.
April's birthday parties were an annual tradition for 30 years straight - and was an unusual and singular opportunity to have an up-close encounter with the docile and oddly charming animal. Because of this April became a genuine cultural icon and certainly, on the news calendar she was a staple and will be missed.
April the Tapir dead
For many years, News Five has been covering the birthday celebrations held for April the Tapir. But after thirty years of being in existence and a main attraction at the Belize Zoo, April passed away on Thursday night.
Duane Moody, Reporting
World and national tapir day is celebrated every year in late April and it is done in honor of Belize’s national animal. One of the main attractions of the Belize Zoo is the eldest female tapir, coincidentally named April. But over the course of Thursday night, April passed away at the Belize Zoo. According to Founding Director of the Belize Zoo, Sharon Matola, April’s health deteriorated over some weeks and they made sure that she was comfortable.
Sharon Matola, Founding Director, Belize Zoo
“We are all, not feeling too good about today and basically, April the Tapir peacefully died in her sleep on Halloween night. Her health was failing. She is basically the oldest female tapir in captivity. We are lucky we had her for thirty years, but the significance of what April meant not just to us, but to Belize is really kind of. We are focusing on that right now. She is gone, but her spirit is definitely gonna live on here at the zoo. We did a great job keeping her comfortable during her last few weeks, but you get to a point where it is just time to go. At least it wasn’t a dreadful awful disease that took her in a snap. We saw what was happening; we were committed to keeping her comfortable. And if I could say the good news is that she died peacefully in her sleep.”
To many, April is an iconic figure that played a huge role as the queen of the zoo; the tapir is the national animal of the country. Matola gave a short retrospective of April’s life from an early age.
“She couldn’t stand up; she had a huge screw-worm infection on her side. It was so big, you could stick your fist through it…she couldn’t stand up. And the few people that came to see her—at that time there was no zoo really—she is not going to live. And I said [huh] oh yeah. She was the first animal that I saved, we rehabilitated and brought into an environmental awareness limelight and she changed the way people thought about mountain cows in Belize. I’ve been here since 1983 doing this and I can assure you that that animal had a tremendous and profound impact on a nation.”
But what will happen of April’s body?
“The next step is very meaningful. April will be the first member of a museum we are going to build. It is going to be a museum of the famous animals of the Belize zoo and she is the first member. Their skeleton along with a picture board which shows them when they were young as well as the significant role they played in Belize. So people will still be able to connect.”
April the Tapir, dead at age thirty. Duane Moody for News Five.