Many years ago, during an exploratory expedition across the upper Amazon basin, we stopped at Leticia, Colombia, a small trading post. There we met Mike Tsalikis who ran a zoo supply business. He collected all types of rare animals – with the help of local Indians – and sold them to zoos around the world.
Mike gave us a tour of his compound where we saw creatures ranging from tree sloths to anacondas. Our daughter Linda was impressed with the snakes, some of which were 25 to 30 feet long. Daughter Laura was intrigued by the smallest exhibits, pygmy marmosets – little monkeys about as big as your fist
The next morning when we went to the airstrip to leave Mike had surprise presents for both girls. For Linda there was a burlap bag in which a 10 foot anaconda was coiled. For Laura there was a marmoset in a small wicker cage. I promptly said there would be no snakes in the airplane but found a place for the monkey cage between the pilot and co-pilot seats. Laura, totally charmed, named him “Tarzoo” and declared that he was now a member of our family.
During the trip down the Amazon to Manaus and Belem it appeared that Tarzoo was a bit apprehensive. But during the northward legs to Paramaribo and Trinidad he seemed to relax and keep a close eye on the instrument panel. By the time we got to Puerto Rico, I began to wonder if he had learned to comprehend what some of the instruments were saying. When we would drift a few degrees off course and a needle would deflect, Laura reports that he would turn toward me and give me a hard look.
Tarzoo captivated the customs and immigration people at West Palm Beach and we were able to get him to Atlanta where he lived with us for a while before Laura gave him to the Emory University primate research center.
I have often wondered what kind of report he would send back to his fellow marmosets in Leticia. Perhaps he would say: “These large primates, stupid as they are, seem to be trainable — perhaps we can teach them to protect the rainforest and grow bigger and better bananas.”