Monday, January 16, 2012

The Anta Of Miracema

“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.”
I did.
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?”
“Not one.”
“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


  1. I had an Anta Bea, even an Anta Miriam, but never an Anta Tapir. Alas, just another thing I missed not growing up in Brazil.

  2. The babies are ridiculously cute! thank heavens they are not displayed to small boys and girls in pet shops!

  3. Antas are amazingly cute. I never saw one live, but I find them charming.
    Yet, people still use their name to call people stupid. Now, _I_ think they are just jealous of their charms and their smarts.

  4. What a charming, educational post! bonding with most mammals is dangerous-it makes us want to add a room, or a field. I had never heard of them. (note to Jeff: "Ouch")

  5. Great post.

    And when you´ve seen that striped baby, you can´t be anti-anta, can you? :)

  6. What a great post. You really are a cornucopia of previously unknown (to me) stuff.

    1. This is an interesting post.

      I actually saw a tapir in Florida at a Gator World or something like that circa 1980. I have a few photos of that tapir.

      The babies are cute. Thankfully, not many people have seen them or petshops would be selling them.

      Just saw in the news yesterday that a legislator was just found guilty of having murdered a legislator in the late 90s in order to grab her seat. Incredible! It only took 14 years, but at least it happened.

      Might this turn up in one of the books in your series?

  7. Thanks, all for your comments.

    Jeff, your misguided attempt to introduce humor into this most serious post, is seriously misguided. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    Dorte: Ha! No, you certainly can't.

    Kathy: that legislator is going to appeal. I will be very pleased if he goes down again, but it is by no means certain. The fact that he has been able to escape prosecution for this long is revolting -- but by no means uncommon.

    I have no plans, however, for using the case to build fiction upon.

    There's a lot of other, even more interesting stuff going on at the moment - and the Brazilian newspapers bring new grist to my mill every day of the week.

    This is a wonderful place in which to write crime fiction!

  8. I'm humbled. I shall take a time-out and go to my room to reflect on the serious nature of all things Brazilian.