- Jarrett Bellini travels to Nashville to meet their zoo's new arrival
- Photos of the baby Baird's tapir surfaced on Reddit
- Bellini: "Trust me, this goofy little thing has an absolutely incredible story"
- The Nashville Zoo's ungulate manager saves the day
If I've learned anything after many years in news, it's that people love cute, baby animals. And car chases.
So, really, we're sort of all just waiting for a newborn panda to rob a bank, steal a Nissan, and drive it to the Mexican border for an explosive three-hour shootout.
Anderson Cooper will go on air later that night with a teary, bittersweet final report.
"Welp, that's as good as it gets. Kill your TV. There is no longer anything worth seeing."
Unfortunately, even just normal, non-panda-related car chases are rather rare. Though, Florida, Texas and California do try their best. Bless their hearts.
Baby animals, on the other hand, are seemingly everywhere. I recently had the opportunity to meet a very special one in person.
Trust me, this goofy little thing has an absolutely incredible story.
A few days ago, before setting off on a work trip to Nashville, I started searching the Web for anything trending in that city I could write about while I was in town. Through Reddit, I quickly discovered a popular link with adorable photos of this strange new creature that very well might have been the result of an aardvark mating with Danny DeVito.
(Which, I'm told, is considered "das sexy" in Germany.)
This bizarre little newborn was a Baird's tapir from the Nashville Zoo, and it's actually nothing at all like an aardvark. Or Danny DeVito. In fact, its closest living relatives are horses.
And I only know all this because I made a short visit to the zoo to meet with Lanny Brown, its ungulate manager.
"Ungulate" is a science word. And those make me dizzy. So, let's just call him Hoof Master General, for he described his body of work as: "Everything from deer all the way up to elephants and everything in between."
Now, you've probably never heard of a Baird's tapir, so the first thing you need to know is that it's technically a Spanish word. Thus, one might accurately pronounce the second part 'tap-YEAR.'
I choose not to be accurate.
The common North American way of saying it is 'TAPE-uhr' -- like the guys with the tall microphones at Widespread Panic concerts who record the shows.
However you decide to pronounce it, there are four species of tapir -- all of which, as adults, become delightfully ugly and sort of look like 500-pound versions of Watto from Star Wars. Essentially, if animals did online dating, these would be the really desperate ones who "respond frequently."
This particular breed that we're talking about here, is actually native to southern Mexico and central America. But they're endangered, so it's pretty remarkable that the Nashville Zoo successfully bred one in captivity.
Though, it almost ended in tragedy. And that's where this story gets both amazing and disgusting all at once. Sort of like when I fear-floss an hour before the dentist.
It all went down on January 12 when the mother tapir, Houston, finally gave birth to her cute little baby boy, Felix. There was no mention of daddy tapir during this miracle, but it's safe to assume he was off doing guy things like lighting stuff on fire and burping into a microphone.
After Felix was born, his mother was supposed to gently use her teeth to open the embryonic sac, releasing her calf into the world to breathe on its own. However, in this particular instance, she actually went directly to step two: Eating the placenta and afterbirth. Because, really, who can resist?
Meanwhile, poor Felix was suffocating in the embryonic sac.
Eventually, zoo staff was able to move mom into another stall so our brave Hoof Master General could get to the baby and set it free. Only, by this point, it wasn't breathing. So, they started the equivalent of human CPR.
"There was a lot of fluid in his snout that had to be sucked out first," Brown said. "I would love to tell you I was so much in the moment that I didn't think about it at all, but that's not true by any means. It was (sigh) very similar to -- what's a good way to put it -- you know when you have a really, really runny nose. It's that same salty, mucousy kinda taste. I spit it out as quickly as I could. It had to be done."
After about 15 minutes of supplemental breaths and compressions, little Felix finally started breathing on his own and, weeks later, is as healthy as can be. On top of that, he's already sort of an Internet star.
Now, if only we can teach him to rob banks and drive a Nissan.