Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Behold the lowly tapir
Behold the lowly South American tapir. I only knew of it through my girls' (now in high school) alphabet card matching game of mothers and babies. A was for Anteater, B was for Bear...T was for Tapir, which I unknowingly pronounced as "tap--eer" all those years. It's actually "tape-ear." But then again, I say "draw" for drawer (it's a northern thing) and my Texan husband uses "pin" for both the sewing item and writing implement. He also uses "next week" for this week, but I digress.
The tapir is the subject of an amazing scientist-in-action book called The tapir scientist: Saving South America's largest mammal by Sy Montgomery, with pictures by noted photographer Nic Bishop. Even the title of this book packs a punch: you know the tapir is in danger, you know where it lives, you know something about its size, and you know what kind of animal it is. The title alone is a lesson in concise communication! As noted in the first chapter, fossils of the first tapirs are from about 12 million years ago during the Miocene era. Despite this long history, tapirs are little known. This animal needs a publicist, and Montgomery is the perfect person to raise awareness of this interesting mammal.
This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book published in 2013 chronicles the work of Pati Medici and her team of field scientists as they track, observe, and monitor these clandestine creatures. Medici's work is not for the faint of heart or those who prefer hotels to camping (like myself): mosquitoes and ticks abound, pumas surround, sleep is minimal. I can hardly shoo kids out the door without morning coffee, so mustering early morning energy to gather scat - and being excited about it - is something I can only admire from afar. Several vignettes are also included, such as profiles of other team members and information about how scientific research is conducted. For example, "Pati's Spreadsheets" provides an explanation of how data collected in the field is analyzed. Nic Bishop's photos add to the high interest level of this book; whether he's capturing tapirs at night with infrared cameras or shooting up-close photos of gloved hands picking ticks off the tapir's back, Bishop's images bring this story to life.
To accompany the print portion of Medici's field work, there are videos available from the Scientists in the Field website. These would be great resources to share with students in addition to reading aloud portions of the text - for example, you can listen to an interview with Montgomery about her research for this book. The tapir is hardly the rockstar of the animal world, but this book will engage you with its fascinating story.