Noah's Park, where many rare animals roam freely, is about xTC to open in Brazil

September 16, 1990|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

MANAUS, Brazil -- Call it the Amazon's first guilt-free zoo.

Hardly any of the animals are in cages, and most belong to endangered species, rescued from poachers.

In a patch of rain forest 20 miles north of Manaus, "Noah's Park" is just about to open to tourists. Until events in the Middle East intervened and President Bush had to postpone a planned trip here, Marc van Roosmalen, the park director, had hoped the U.S. president would be one of the first visitors.

Mr. van Roosmalen, a 42-year-old Dutch primatologist, dreamed up the idea for the park and says he thinks it's unique. He and his wife, Betty, and their two sons have tamed most of the animals themselves.

The standard park welcome is a mobbing at the gate by Mr. van Roosmalen's colony of 31 woolly monkeys. They climb on strangers' shoulders, embrace them with gusto,tug at hair and gently teethe on fingers.

For those wandering deeper along the park's three miles of trails, it's not unusual to be escorted by a cooing, waddling pair of purple-breasted trumpeter birds, or a particularly affectionate wild pig. And for the truly dedicated animal lover, Mr. van Roosmalen offers swims in the park's streams in the company of a giant river otter -- one of the Amazon's most threatened species -- that was recently confiscated from a local circus.

Mr. van Roosmalen hopes his park will help spread the word that Amazon deforestation threatens even more than native Indi

ans and trees.

"Nobody ever talks about the hunting problem, but it's catastrophic," he said.

The biggest threats to the rain forest's monkeys and birds are farmers and gold miners who shoot them for food.

After that come the poachers who smuggle them out of Brazil to sell as pets on a lucrative market known to have offered more than $20,000 for a hyacinth macaw sold in Japan.

The van Roosmalens have collected most of the animals over the past three years through donations and, more often, their own black market purchases.

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