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Belize Zoo releases video tribute to Belize Zoo founder Sharon Matola

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Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2022. 7:06 pm CST.

Photo Credit: The Belize Zoo

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center (TBZTEC) has released a video tribute to Belize Zoo founder Sharon Matola.

“How to do you visually recap almost 40 years of work and achievements in wildlife conservation?” asked the Belize Zoo in a social media post in reference to the 40 years that Matola, the zoo’s founder, dedicated to the preservation of Belize’s animals.

The video entitled ‘Celebrating Sharon Matola, Wildlife Conservationist, Founder of The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center lasts just 8 minutes and 435 seconds but it visually records Matola’s work, a life of dedication to the animals that, like we do, call Belize home.

“It is a very challenging task, but, thankfully, our amazing colleagues Carol Farneti Foster and Daniel Velasquez were able to help us do just that. We invite you to enjoy this phenomenal video tribute to the conservation career of TBZTEC Founder, Sharon Matola, now available for viewing on our YouTube channel,” said the Belize Zoo.

“Take a visual journey, narrated by Sharon herself, and see the origin and evolution of “the best little zoo in the world,” as well as some of the other conservation projects Sharon pioneered.”

In the video, Matola is described as an explorer, visionary, writer/author, radio educator, musician, researcher, pioneer – she led the first all-woman expedition to Victoria Peak, animal trainer, and zoo director.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States on June 3, 1954, Matola was hired by British filmmaker Richard Foster in 1982 as the caretaker of 20 animals he was using to make a wildlife documentary film called ‘Selva Verde’ here in Belize.

“The Belize Zoo that we know and enjoy today has a very unique and unusual beginning. I’m taking you back to the 80s,” Matola says in the video.

“At that time, I was left behind with about 20 animals from a documentary film project and when animals are habituated, cared for daily, you just can’t toss them back into the jungle. What was I going to do? I had an idea. ‘I’ll save their lives and start a zoo,’” says Matola. And that’s what she did starting with an ocelot, a puma, a jaguar, and several exotic birds.

Matola called the Belize Zoo, located at Mile 29 on the George Price Highway, “the best little zoo in the world where the animals of Belize are in their natural habitat”.

She recounts how her starting the zoo in 1983 was a new beginning for her.

“Life changed for me then. I remember sitting at the film base that night saying ‘I will do whatever it takes to turn that backyard zoo into a dynamic wildlife education center for Belize.

Matola explains that the animals are rescued, that they are not taken from the wild and once they become part of the Belize Zoo, they become ambassadors for their species.

The video features April, a mountain cow or tapir (Belize’s national animal), who became very popular and was known by all school children even if just by name, and other animals such as the Harpy eagle, jaguars, owls, yellow-head parrots, howler monkeys.

The Belize Zoo has been visited by many Belizeans and foreigners alike, including by Princess Anne, Harrison Ford, and popular but ill-fated naturalist Steve Irvin who are featured in the video.

During the course of her life in this Jewel of ours, Sharon Matola became a Belizean. She loved Belize immensely and was in turn loved by Belize. Sadly, she passed away on March 21, 2021, at age 66.

 

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