Brazilian Army Zoo Provides Safe Haven for Rescued Amazon Animals

Brazilian Army Zoo Provides Safe Haven for Rescued Amazon Animals

By Dialogo
December 24, 2015

I love what the Brazilian Army does with our animals of the Amazon. I finished a degree in Natural History through UNISINUS in São Leopoldo due to my love of Nature! At the time, it was one of the most structured courses in Brazil. I had great professors – all with their doctorates from abroad (Germany, Austria, USA, Prague, etc.). My professors were Jesuits. That zoo is impressive. Good refuge for those animals

In addition to shielding the country from outside threats, the Brazilian Army is protecting endangered species by maintaining a zoo in Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas.

The Military zoo serves as safe haven for jaguars, monkeys, tapirs, sloths, and numerous kinds of birds and Amazonian fish that have been removed illegally from their natural habitats or forced from those regions because of development.

The animals are brought to the zoo by environmental groups who have rescued them from hunters and animal traffickers, who cage them before they are sold for profit. At the zoo – the only place these animals can be housed – workers tend to the animals' wounds and help them recuperate before the vast majority are released. However, those that are seriously injured and would not survive in the wild remain at the zoo.

“The Army is our partner to receive the animals that are confiscated during searches or are voluntarily surrendered by unregulated breeders,” said environmental analyst Marcelo Garcia, the wildlife manager for the Amazonas Environmental Protection Institute (IPAAM, for its Portuguese acronym), which rescued 541 animals from January to October of this year.

The zoo is on 36,000 square meters of forest inside the Jungle Warfare Instructional Center (CIGS), where service members specializing in combat in a jungle environment are based. Colonel Jorge Teixeira created the zoo in 1967 as part of the Jungle Operations Course (COS), which also teaches students jungle survival skills, the behavior of animals that live in the rain forest, and how to protect them.

Educating the public about animal conservation

The Military opened the zoo to the public in 1969 to spread the idea of animal preservation and conservation. In December 2014, Military authorities opened the Environmental Learning Center (OCA), which holds educational activities on the environment and is open to public schools, especially those in Manaus, along with the zoo and the aquarium.

“The goal is for students to be able to spread the idea of Amazon conservation as they grow up so that future generations will have the same privilege to contemplate the beauty of the rainforest,” according to the Army Social Communications Center.

Every month 6,000 people visit the zoo, which is open from Tuesday through Sunday. In October – the month when Brazilians celebrate their children on the 12th – the number of visitors rises to 30,000.

“The CIGS Zoo has done important work in environmental education about the species of the Amazon,” said Natália Lima, coordinator at the Amazonas Wild Animals Screening Center (CETAS-AM), an agency of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) that's responsible for rescuing animals that are stolen from the rainforest.

Last year, CETAS-AM rescued 567 wild animals – 173 birds, 297 reptiles, and 97 mammals.

Some of the animals at the refuge, such as the pied tamarin ( Saguinus bicolor
), are extremely endangered. This small primate, which symbolizes Manaus, is listed in the most serious category – critically endangered – by the Red Book on Threatened Brazilian Fauna, a publication by the Brazilian government based on a survey by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Zoo provides refuge for nearly 200 animals

The CIGS Zoo is home to 186 animals from 18 mammal species, 12 bird species, and 11 reptile species, in addition to the 263 fish from 23 species in the aquarium, and are all native to the Amazon. The zoo's enclosures were built in accordance with IBAMA standards to ensure the animals’ well-being and provide for the needs of each species. For example, the jaguar enclosure has enough space for them to run on and a lake where they can cool off as visitors see them from a catwalk above, or when they walk past the big cats exhibit.

Meanwhile, each monkey species is kept on a separate island to prevent cross-breeding. Each island has ropes and swings to reduce the animals' stress and give them an outlet to exercise, all as part of the zoo's environmental enrichment program designed to give the animals a better quality of life while in captivity.

The animals consume 15 tons of food monthly, and workers make sure their nutritional needs are met by giving them fruit, vegetables, legumes, oils, seeds, and meat, according to First Lieutenant Gisele Torres Clímaco, the CIGS Zoo's deputy chief responsible for the Amazon Aquarium section.

“Occasionally, we receive injured animals, and while they are here, they are fed according to their state of health."

Among the injured animals that zoo workers have treated is a spotted jaguar ( Panthera onca
) named Cunhã, who was delivered by a resident after Cunhã's mother was fatally shot.

“When she arrived at our facility, we took X-rays which showed she suffered from a completely fractured femur and a fractured pelvis (ischium). In addition, we realized that her eyes bulged out from her face.”

The zoo is not authorized to receive animals straight from the rainforest. But officials made an exception with Cunhã so she could undergo an operation to bridge the femoral fracture with an intramedullary pin implant. A month later, she was ready for physical therapy.

“Cunhã fed exclusively on cat food until she was 2 years old to correct a deficiency in taurine, an amino acid that is critical for vision, according to the literature on the subject. Currently, she is living well, and is one of our mascots," said 1st Lt. Torres Clímaco, a veterinarian who has worked at the zoo since 2012 and who holds a master’s degree in Genetics, Conservation and Evolutionary Biology from the National Institute of Amazonian Research.

About a year ago, Cunhã lost her sight, likely as a result of the injury she suffered as a cub.

“Cunhã would not have had a chance to survive after her mother was killed, and she could not be raised in a home environment since it is an environmental crime to raise a wild animal in captivity (Law 9,605 dated February 12, 1998). In cases like this, IBAMA analysts understand the animal must live in a zoo, so it can live a dignified life with veterinary care whenever needed.”