I don't make a lot of holiday posts, but for World Tapir Day I'm going to make an exception.
Amirah and Bertie in 2013
I've been fascinated by tapirs for as long as I can remember. It's easy to see why. I'm a large mammal who sleeps a lot, is most active in the morning and evening, likes to swim, and is gentle most of the time but can be fierce when appropriate. Tapirs are not only introverts, they're maybe the animal most comfortable with being introverts.
Amirah had an interesting method of learning to get into her pool.
It helped that the timing was extremely convenient. Tapirs, even baby tapirs, spend most of their time during the day sleeping. Amirah developed a routine where she was awake from 9:00 to 9:30 or 9:45 and would then go to sleep for the rest of the day. So I developed a routine where I was at the zoo from 9:00 to 9:45 on a lot of those days, and then once she was asleep I would go about my other business.
Not really knowing what to do with all of those photos I started a Tumblr. I don't know if you know this, but baby animals do pretty well there.
Previously in my photography career I had been very careful to only release my best work, carefully edited, test-printed, well-thought-through. For this project I decided to do the complete opposite: if it was anywhere close to in focus, I posted it to the Tumblr. There are some pretty terrible photos there.
But the point wasn't that it was me, the point was that I was doing a project no one had ever done before: extensively documenting the life and growth of a baby tapir in a way that was open to the public.
I just adore this one.
She never stopped doing this though.
Amirah at her tiniest public appearance
So when the new baby made her first public appearance, I was there, along with a ton of other people. And the second day, I was there, along with a fair number of other people. And the third day I was there with two other nutjob photographers. By the end of the first week it was usually just me.
More Amirah and Bertie.
I followed Amirah for about a year, as she lost her spots and grew into an adult tapir. I ended up with over three thousand pictures, about 1800 of which ended up on the Tumblr. In the winter I finally had to learn flash photography, so there are some real stinkers in there as I was trying to learn, and in the week that I figured out just how much on-camera flash is a bad idea.
But as with all baby animals, Amirah eventually grew up enough to leave her mama and move to another zoo to meet a boy tapir and hopefully make more babies. Malayan tapirs are endangered in the wild, so increasing genetic diversity in the captive population is extremely important. So I had to say goodbye to my no-longer-little tapir friend...
Amirah's first birthday party.
...and say hello to her younger brother.
Thankfully by this time I had figured the flash thing out.
Ketawa was born in the summer of 2015, and I started the whole process over again. While they had different personalities, in many ways the process was the same. Ketawa would come out, and I'd photograph him while he ran around for half an hour. Then he'd go to sleep and I'd go do something else.
Ketawa with Bertie.
But just as his sister did, he grew old, he grew large, he lost his spots, and he had to move to another zoo. So I had to say goodbye to a second tapir friend...
Closeup of Ketawa's coat
Mom is the tapir playground.
...and hello to their little sister.
Last one I promise.
Indah was born in January, and the plan was for round three of the project, but her health didn't cooperate. She took sick after only a few days in the public exhibit, and had to be kept under veterinary supervision for almost two months. So I only have a few days of baby photos. Thankfully she's healthy now, but by the time she came back out her coat had largely changed.
I did get to see her discover the tree kangaroo though.
Through the Tumblr and other community connections I got to meet some other tapir enthusiasts, and in November I got to attend the every-three-years convention of tapir conservationists throughout the world, which was both fun and educational. I even got to stop and see Amirah in her new home in Texas on the way home. (Like a good adult tapir, she was sleeping in the least-visible corner of her exhibit.)
Amirah is skeptical of this idea.