Noah's Ark Zoo

21/Diciembre/2011 | 09:31

By Gail Burkhardt

Seventeen years ago when Rosía Santa María and her husband Joselito Rosales were working in the Amazon they saw a group of Quechua people ready to kill and eat a baby tapir. Knowing the animal was endagered, the couple persuaded the group not to kill the animal and took it home with them marking the beginning of the Noah's Ark Zoo (El Arca de Noé).

The zoo, which began operating legally in 2005, has about 150 animals representing 50 species, including a 20-foot long anaconda, the largest in captivity in Ecuador. Located in Cotundo, in the province of Napo, the animal preserve is in the middle of the Amazon, where many of its animals come from.

Guide César Chalá points out that many of the animals in the preserve are on the verge of extinction for various reasons including hunting, domestication, pollution and the use of animals for local artisanry.

Parrots, for example, are often taken as pets because of their ability to mimic speech, while other birds such as the nocturnal turkey are killed for food or to use their colorful beaks in crafts, Chalá explained.

"I would almost say that it is a cancer, a cancer that does not have a cure, because as much as national organizations do and although the government impedes trafficking, it cannot stop it," Santa María said of trafficking of animals for domestic use.

Still the zoo's owners and workers do their part by rescuing as many animals as they can and putting them in large enclosures that closely represent their native habitat. They use five hectares for the exhibits, and have five extra hectares to move animals who use up the resources in their current space, such as monkeys that destroy the trees they live in, Chalá said.

Along with a host of Amazonian animals such as monkeys, tapirs, birds, rodents, snakes and crocodiles, the zoo has two giant Galapagos turtles and a few animals from other continents including ostriches and lions from Africa.

The majority of the animals were found by police on roads or populated areas, while others were donated to the zoo, which received its license from the Ministry of Environment to operate in 2005. Some animals are even brought by indigenous children, who sometimes take the wildlife out of their parents' home without permission, Santa María said. The zoo educates the children about the importance of preservation, even allowing them to enter in exchange for native products such as yucca and bananas.

 "All of the Indian children are part of El Arca.  Nowadays, they can demand that their community and parents don't eat (rare species), that they go to the zoo and that they need to take care of wildlife," she said.

The campaign seems to be working. Last April, when rains flooded the Amazon, the tapir escaped and several of the surrounding communities helped El Arca find it. The anaconda is another example of the zoo's successful outreach to the surrounding Quechua communities.

A group of fisherman captured the snake as it was about to prey on a 3-year-old child. Instead of sacrificing it, as they would have done in past years, they contacted El Arca and brought it to the refuge at midnight.

The animal represents scientific possibilities, as not many have been studied before, but it also represents financial hardship for El Arca.

In the beginning of November about 30 days after the snake was captured, it still remained in a 6-ft.-by-6-ft. structure with a tub of water in the middle as the owners were scrambling to come up with the funds to build a larger habitat that includes a body of running water. While the snake only eats once every thirty days, it can consume up to 44 pounds of live prey at one time, which also proves to be expensive.

Rosales and Santa María fund the zoo from the ticket fees ($3 for Ecuadorian Adults, $2 children, $2.50 senior citizens and $4.50 for foreigners) and donations alone without support from the government.

Despite the difficulties and the fact that Rosales and Santa María, who have no scientific background, did not originally plan on creating the zoo, Santa María said she thinks they have received some divine intervention.

"It is a blessing from God and for that reason we chose the name Noah's Ark," she said.


Noah's Ark is located on kilometer six of the Vía Archidona-Quito. Accomodations in the area can be found in Tena and Misahuallí, as well as agencies offering Amazon expeditions, rafting on the Napo River, and other activities.


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- en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.