The Belize Audubon Society awarded Interdisciplinary Ecology Ph.D. student Celso Poot with the James A. Waight Award. The annual award is the most prestigious Belizean honor for conservation. It was presented to Celso on Feb. 16, 2021.
The mission of the Belize Audubon Society is to promote sustainable use and preservation of natural resources through leadership and strategic partnerships, according to its website. The goal is to maintain a balance between people and the environment. The society is recognizing Celso for his accomplishments and efforts in environmental conservation and protection.
About Celso Poot
Celso lives in San Ignacio, Belize. He started working at the Belize Zoo in 1995 as an environmental educator. He has worked in different departments within the environmental education center throughout the years. In a video broadcast of the awards ceremony, Celso said education has always been his passion.
“Education is where I saw I was making a difference working with Belizean youth and exposing them to the outdoors,” he said. Celso wants to provide a classroom where they can get hands-on field research experience and understand the importance of the environment. He is overwhelmed to know that he is inspiring young conservationists through his work and receiving this award.
The Belize Tapir Project
While working at the Belize Zoo, Celso was responsible for the coordination of an event celebrating the birthday of April the tapir. A tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal with a short nose trunk. It is the national animal of Belize. The zoo celebrated April’s birthday for 30 years. Celso was in charge of the event for approximately 20 of those years. After April’s passing, Celso realized he wanted to do more for tapirs.
“April brought out a lot in me to see kids coming to the zoo to celebrate April’s birthday,” Celso said. “It was really cool. I felt I need to do something for tapirs, I needed to help them.”
Celso knew there was very little research on tapirs regarding their ecology or conservation. He also noticed a growing trend of tapir vehicle collisions, so he started the Belize Tapir Project in 2008. The project began monitoring tapir vehicle collisions in Central Belize, and he made it part of his master’s degree. “Since then, it has taken over my life,” he said.
Some of the results of his project include an advanced understanding of the tapir, the ecosystem, and the survival of this species. Tapir crossing signs envisioned by Celso have been integrated onto highways and roads. The project has raised awareness about the tapir. It also increased public participation in the conservation of the tapir.
Celso said he is moved knowing that he contributes to a species that doesn’t have a voice. “We need to be that voice, especially since it’s our national animal,” Celso said.
Dr. Holly Ober, a professor in the UF/IFAS Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department is Celso’s advisor. His dissertation title is Movement Behavior, Space Use, and Conservation of the Central American Tapir (Tapirus bairdii) in a Multi-use Landscape in Belize.
The conservation award is in memory of one of the society’s founding members, James A. Waight. The Belize Audubon Society was founded in 1969, and Mr. Waight presented the first award in 1987.