Operations Manager of The Belize Zoo and founder of The Belize Tapir Project, Mr. Celso Poot, was honored with the prestigious James A. Waight Award for conservation in a virtual ceremony on Tuesday February 16th.
The award, which is presented by Belize Audubon Society (BAS) in memory of founding member and the Society's first president, Mr. James A. Waight, celebrates outstanding work in the protection and enhancement of Belize's natural environment.
Celso Poot is the 35th recipient of the award, which was presented to him by BAS' Environmental Education & Communications Director, Dareece Chuc, as part of the virtual ceremony which was broadcast via Facebook and YouTube due to pandemic restrictions.
Mr. Poot was nominated for the award by his colleague and friend, Jamal Andrewin-Bohn, who highlighted Mr. Poot's long career in conservation, both through his work in education and management at The Belize Zoo, and his groundbreaking research work and conservation of the Central American Tapir through the Belize Tapir Project.
In 1995, his career started as an Environmental Educator at The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre. He later transitioned to Education Director where he developed environmental education programs that have impacted thousands of Belizeans and visitors. These include, conservation camps, professional development workshops for primary school teachers, community outreach in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area to complement the Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Program; and educational programs to address human-jaguar conflict.
Inspired by many years of hosting April the Tapir's birthday celebrations at the zoo, in 2008 Mr. Poot began monitoring tapir fatalities on the Burrell Boom road. In the years to follow, his work would include raising awareness with motorists on tapir collisions and lobbying the government for the placement of 'Tapir Crossing' signs on the Burrell Boom road, resulting in reduced tapir deaths.
His tapir research has been expanded across the country, and Mr. Poot has been recognized for this by becoming the country's focal point for the IUCN Tapir Specialist Group for Belize, and being the recipient of a fellowship to fulfill a PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida.
Re: 35th James A. Waight Award presented to Celso Poot
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Celso Poot is the Recipient of the James A. Waight Award
COVID-19 has changed the way people usually gather to present awards honoring those doing outstanding work in a particular field. Well on Tuesday night, the Belize Audubon Society got around these limitations with a much anticipated virtual ceremony to present this year’s winner of the James A. Waight Award. B.A.S. says that, as always, there were many very deserving nominations, but in the end their choice was clear. The winner says he never expected to be counted among those who have been honored by the organization.
Celso Poot, Recipient, James A. Waight Award
“You know, the James A Waight award is something that I look
out for annually to see who is who in the conservation field in Belize – who is going to be the next person to receive this prestigious award.”
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Celso Poot, the Operations Manager of the Belize Zoo and founder of the Belize Tapir Project, didn’t need to look out for anyone else as winner this year. He was selected as the recipient of the coveted award during a virtual ceremony on Tuesday night. The award is used to recognize outstanding work in protection and enhancement of Belize’s natural environment and to honor the memory of BAS founding member and first president James A. Waight.
Roberto Rivero, Environmental Education Officer, Belize Audubon Society
“He remained President from 1969 to 1986 overseeing the evolution of the Society from Florida Chapter to an autonomous entity within environmental education, advocacy and protected areas management at its core. Jim’s quiet, strong leadership and his familiarity with Belize’s land and other natural resources combined with the vast experience of other founding members made the Belize Audubon Society a powerful and credible force between new reserve areas and parks.”
Poot was selected as the thirty-fifth recipient of this award because of his extensive work in conservation in Belize, particularly his service to the Belize Zoo and his research on tapirs.
“So, I started working at the Belize Zoo back in 1995 as an environmental educator and since then I have worked in different departments at the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. Education has always been my passion – that is what I started out with and that is where I saw I was making a difference, working with Belizean youth exposing them to the outdoors basically is what really captured my attention in the environmental field. I decided to start the Belize Tapir Project where I began monitoring tapir vehicle collision specifically along the Burrell Boom Road. I made that a part of my master’s degree and since then it has taken over my life, spending a lot more time out in the field, looking at tapir behavior, tapir movement.
It is just knowing that
I am contributing to a species that doesn’t have a voice and we the people need to be the voice for an endangered species like the tapir, especially since it is our national animal. So, that is what motivates – educating people and making people appreciate what we have is the driving force.”
Pott is pursuing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.
Poot says that his interest in protecting tapirs first began in 2008 after the Belize Zoo’s popular tapir, April, died. Around that time he also noticed a high incidence of vehicle accidents involving tapirs, especially near Burrell Boom. Noting a lack of research on tapirs in the region, and in Belize in particular, he saw the need to fill the gaps in our knowledge of their ecology and people’s attitudes towards our national animal.