Dr. Marc van Roosmalen is a Dutch-Brazilian researcher with over 25 years of field experience in South America. He began his career in Brazil serving 17 years as a senior research scientist at the Brazilian Institute for Amazon Research (INPA), a premier institute of ecological research operated by the Brazilian federal government. During his tenure at INPA, Dr. van Roosmalen identified and named at least seven new primate species. His descriptions of new species have been published in internationally peer-reviewed zoology and ecology journals.
In 1989, Dr. van Roosmalen established the Center for the Rehabilitation and Re-introduction of Endangered Wildlife in the federal Rio Cuieiras Nature Reserve, where animals, particularly monkeys, that were confiscated in the illegal pet trade by Brazilian authorities were brought to be rehabilitated. As an activist for the preservation of the rainforest, Dr. van Roosmalen’s advocacy led to a 1996 environmental protection law that allowed for non-governmental organizations to buy rainforest land for conservation, research and ecotourism purposes. The law, one of the first acts of Brazilian legislation to promote Amazonian preservation, was broadly opposed by a powerful lobby of loggers and ranchers. In 1999, he founded the Amazon Association for the Preservation of High Biodiversity Areas (AAPA), a local NGO through which he purchased pristine tracts of rain forest in hopes of transforming them into natural heritage reserves according to the law that he helped to introduce.
His international accolades abound. In recognition of Dr. van Roosmalen’s role as a pioneering environmentalist, His Royal Highness Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands knighted him as an Officer in the Order of the Golden Ark. In 2000, Time Magazine named him a “Hero of the Planet” and in 2001 he was awarded the Netherlands’ C.Th.F. Thurkow Prize for his lifelong dedication to research of the Amazon rainforest. Dr. van Roosmalen’s discoveries and work in the Brazilian rainforest have led to TV features on National Geographic, international documentaries and several full-length feature articles in publications such as Smithsonian Magazine.
Dr. van Roosmalen became a target for legal persecution and harassment as well as direct threats on his life due to his role as an advocate for ecological conservation and environmental preservation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. In recent years, Brazilian authorities charged him with “biopiracy”, a crime that was levied to curb his research activities. Dr. van Roosmalen’s conservation efforts angered local politicians and other officials, who wanted to exploit the rainforest for its land and resources. A close colleague explains, “As an active environmentalist Dr. van Roosmalen became a thorn in the side of cattle ranchers, lumber people, and soy bean farmers who had no interest in the land except to cultivate and use it for their own profitable purposes.” Brazilian authorities shut down his rehabilitation center and dismissed him from his research position at INPA. Several state and federal lawsuits were brought against him and he was eventually sentenced to serve 14 years in a Manaus prison notorious for its deplorable conditions.
The international environmental community was outraged by his incarceration and nearly 300 prominent scientists from the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation signed a petition calling for his release. He was discharged after two and a half months following international media attention and pressure from the Dutch Foreign Ministry and later acquitted of all charges by the Brazilian Supreme Court. In spite of his release, political pressures in Brazil continue to hinder his conservation and education initiatives.
With SRF support, Dr. van Roosmalen is now in the U.S., free from censure and the possible repercussions of his outspoken criticism of Brazilian environmental policies. He is conducting research and teaching courses on ecology and human rights issues in the Amazon at Bard College in New York.