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Belize’s “Zoo Lady” honoured

By: Jamal Andrewin

 

The dynamic Founding Director of The Belize Zoo, Sharon Matola, was once again honoured for her extraordinary contributions to wildlife conservation this year, by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in the USA.

Every year, the Cincinnati Zoo hosts a set of lectures called the Barrows Conservation Lecture Series, where internationally renowned scientists, conservationists and nature explorers are invited to coment on their work in this prestigious program, with one of the invitees being chosen for the annual Zoo Wildlife Conservation Award.

Past recipients have included Jane Goodall, Ted Turner, Alan Rabinowitz, and Robert Kennedy. The 2012 nominee was none other than Belize’s own “Zoo Lady,” Sharon Matola.

As part of her acceptance, Matola was invited to present in the Barrows Lecture Series, which she accepted without hesitation. Her talk, entitled, “Thinking (and playing) out of the box: Conservation Strategies That Rock!” she stressed the importance of engaging the public, community members and stakeholders, and doing so in fun and creative ways, in order to help them embrace any biodiversity conservation effort.

With almost 30 years of conservation work in Belize, Matola had many innovative techniques, experiences, triumphs and trials to share with a captivated audience, but among the highlights, were her instrumental involvement in Harpy Eagle and Jaguar conservation, which were specially noted in her award nomination.

Matola also touched on the programs The Belize Zoo is currently engaged in, under her  guidance, such as the “Barn Owls Rock!” outreach program, and the Handicap Friendly Project.

The monetary award of US$5,000 that came along with the nomination, Matola proudly declared, would go toward the Handicap Friendly Project, which is geared toward upgrading the Zoo’s pathways to make them wheelchair accessible, and elderly friendly.

Her reasoning in this endeavour is that everyone should be able to appreciate Belize’s glorious wildlife in a natural and educational environment at the Zoo.

As Matola’s closing remarks were met with thunderous applause, she was presented with a bronze statue of “Martha” the passenger pigeon, the last member of a species that went extinct with its  death over 50 years ago, by the Director of the Cincinnati Zoo, Thayne Maynard.

The well-deserved award celebrates Matola’s tireless efforts to bring about a greater awareness to the people of Belize, and visitors on a whole, about the unique natural resources  of Belize.

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