Posted: Friday, April 9, 2021. 8:47 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The New York Times has paid tribute to Belizean-American Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, following her March 21 death from a heart attack in Belmopan.
The Times focuses on Matola’s legacy as an unorthodox educator, pointing out that “There is a good chance that Ms. Matola met every child in Belize: Not only did schools include a visit to the zoo on their annual agenda, but she made a habit of popping into classrooms with a boa constrictor in her backpack, often uninvited but always welcome.”
The other legacy she left was in environmentalism: The Times says, “Her activism influenced a generation of Belizeans, many of whom went on to become leaders in the government and nonprofit sector.”
The paper cites Dr Colin Young as one of those many schoolchildren who filed through the zoo; today he is the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center.
“Sharon had an outsize influence on Belize,” he said in a phone interview to the Times. “Much of what kids and adults now know about Belize’s wildlife comes back to her.”
She gladly shared the spotlight with her famous animal friends – April the Tapir, Panama the Harpy Eagle and Junior Buddy the Jaguar to name a few – and fought for their kind during the long-running Chalillo Dam case in the early 2000s.
And even as she cut back on time with the zoo, the Times said, she did not want to be anywhere else, she often said, and she would insist until her death that she was “one of the happiest people on earth.”
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