“We’ve got a problem,” she said.
“I thought that’s what producers are for,” I said, “to solve problems.”
“Which is exactly what this particular producer happens to be doing, so stop looking through that viewfinder and pay attention.”
When she was sure she had my full attention, she went on:
“The mayor owns an anta, and he–”
“He owns a what?”
“An anta. And he wants us to take it back to São Paulo in the plane.”
The mayor in question presided over an out-of-the-way place called Miracema do Norte in the State of Tocantins. So out of the way, in fact, that we’d hired an aircraft to get us there. One like this:
As you can see, Embraer Xingus aren’t very big. We barely had enough room on board for the equipment and the crew.
And an anta, my friends, is this creature:
Most of you gringos would call it a Brazilian tapir. If, indeed, you’d call it anything at all, that is. Because, let’s be honest, how many times do you need to? It’s not like you find them on every street corner.
But I digress.
We were making a film for the state’s power company, and shooting footage all over town. Try that in any small town in Brazil without staying on the good side of the mayor. Fact is, you can’t. So the prefeito had to be placated.
“Why São Paulo?” I asked.
“To give it to a zoo.”
“Back up and explain.”
“He found it in the forest when it was a baby. Before it lost its stripes, he said.”
“They have stripes?”
“The babies do. He loves it.”
“So why does he want to give it to a zoo?”
“Because people around here eat them. She’s forever getting loose, and he’s afraid–”
“I get the picture. Aren’t there any zoos in this part of the world?”
“So how are you going to–”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll see when we get there.”
“You’re coming with me.”
“Why do I have to go?”
“Because he’s the mayor, and you head up this crew, and if you don’t go, it will be a snub. Just be sure to keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking.”
I hated being bossed around by producers.
But this one was my wife, so I went.
I think, at this point, a few words about antas might be in order.
They’re the largest mammal in Brazil, but we don’t see them often. And there are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, they love water and, like hippos, spend a good deal of time under it, walking along streambeds and remaining submerged for considerable periods.
Another reason is that the people who live in the regions in which they abound are very fond of the way they taste. Still another is that they’re spread very thin. Each anta requires an area of forest larger than 500 football pitches to sustain it, so they tend to lead solitary existences, except when they get together to mate. Still another is because they’re naturally shy. And, finally, their reproductive cycle doesn't favor continued existence. Their lives are relatively short (25 to 30 years) while their period of gestation is exceptionally long, It doesn’t help, either, that they bear but a single offspring each time.
They’re smart, though. Very smart. The brains of antas have a gigantic concentration of neurons ranking them among the most intelligent of nature’s creatures, which is probably the only reason there are any left at all.
And also, no doubt, one of the reasons why the mayor liked having Carlota in his backyard.
That was her name: Carlota. He’d had her, at that point, for about five years, and she weighed 500 pounds (225 kilograms) if she weighed an ounce.
She stood there nuzzling me with one of those flexible snouts tapirs have while my wife explained that small aircraft have their load limits, and we were close to exceeding ours, and if Carlota had been a mere 50 kilos or so, we would have been happy to oblige, but there was no way that the pilot, etc., etc.
By the time we finished, the mayor was disappointed.
But he understood.
And, as a sign of his continued good will, he offered us coffee.
Meanwhile, Carlota and I bonded.
I would have taken her along, really I would, if there’d been room on that plane.
But it wouldn’t have been to put her in a zoo.
You have no idea how charming an anta can be.
And I was quite sure none of my neighbors knew how good they’re reputed to taste.
Leighton - Monday