By Michelle Sutherland
Celso Poot has taken over the reign at the Belize Zoo and the Tropical Education Center as the newly appointed director following the passing of the zoo’s founder Sharon Matola last month.
Poot officially took over the reins on Monday, April 26th, and will be working along with the existing management team consisting of 9 members. As director apart from being in charge of the day-to-day management of the Zoo and Tropical Education Center, Poot is also being task with providing leadership and vision to move the zoo forward, despite the tough economic crisis.
Poot told the Reporter, “The new appointment is bittersweet for me in the sense that I have worked towards it for several years so it is not anything new, I have the academic qualifications and experience, but it would have been better if Sharon was here so she could have passed on the baton to me and so she could have witnessed the fruits of her labor. Sharon had equipped the staff, and everybody at the zoo to take over when she stepped down and so we are all ready to take on our respective roles in her absence. As the director I am now tasked and responsible to coordinate, managed, and direct the operations at the zoo and our finances, as well as our activities and personnels.”
Perhaps it is safe to say that it is not an understatement to say that Poot is well-groomed for the job, having spent the last 25 years working at the zoo, 13 of those as operations and finance manager. Poot told the Reporter that while his stunt working at the finance department has taught him how to run the zoo financially, he would need to hone his operation skills by rekindling relationships that the zoo has had with past donors locally as well as internationally to secure the funds necessary to keep Sharon’s legacy alive.
Poot told the Reporter that the zoo has been financially impacted by the pandemic and that finances have declined by more than 80%, resulting in a day-to-day struggle to keep their doors open. Poot said that upon his assuming office his short-term plan is to be able to have the zoo survive the pandemic but that can only happen if Belizeans and visitors continue to access their services.
When we asked Poot about his long-term plan for the zoo he told us that that would definitely include training for their zookeepers and staff for them to be up to par with other zoos around the world to offer quality care to the animals. Poot is also planning to foster new relationships with international zoological facilities and conservational centers.
“Most zoos are used for recreational or amusement parks. The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center are different, we focus heavily on conservation and education and so it is our plan to lead the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center into a center for conservation science. That means that we will be doing more research on some of the animals that we have on-site. Data gathered from that will be able to provide us with guidance for animals in the wild. But apart from that nothing will change for our visitors. We intend to bring people closer to their natural heritage so that they can see it and appreciate it and in turn advocated for the protection of these species and their habitat,” commented Poot.
Poot holds a Master of Arts in Zoology from Miami University’s Global Field Program, a dual Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from Galen University and the University of Indianapolis, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Florida, in Interdisciplinary Ecology with a concentration in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. Poot has also worked at the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Natural Resource.