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Jim Cronin, Foe of Illegal Trade in Primates, Dies at 55

The New York Times

Jim Cronin, a self-trained zoologist who built a wildlife park on a deserted pig farm in southern England, then roamed the world with his wife to rescue illegally captured chimpanzees, orangutans and other primates, died Saturday in Manhattan. Mr. Cronin, who lived at the wildlife park, Monkey World, in Dorset, England, was 55. The cause was liver cancer, said his wife, Alison. Mr. Cronin's work with his wife, who holds a doctorate in biological anthropology from Cambridge University, has been credited with focusing international attention on the smuggling of endangered species. Monkey World, the 62-acre park that Mr. Cronin opened and began to cover with shrubbery and trees in 1987, now draws about 500,000 visitors a year. It is regularly featured on the television series ''Monkey Business,'' which appears 14 times a year in about 200 countries on the Discovery Network's Animal Planet channel. Nicholas A. Robinson, a professor of environmental law at Pace University, said yesterday that Mr. Cronin ''created this entire process from scratch and he clearly was among the first in Europe to do it, and one of the first in the world.'' ''What he was doing,'' Professor Robinson said, ''was taking the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species'' -- a United Nations treaty signed by most countries in 1973 -- ''along with national laws on wildlife and getting them enforced.'' Although American citizens -- he was born in Yonkers, she in San Diego -- the Cronins were honored last year by Queen Elizabeth II as Members of the Order of the British Empire, for their services to animal welfare. Starting in 1996, the Cronins made dozens of trips to Africa, Southeast Asia and Turkey -- posing as potential buyers, secretively taking photographs, recording addresses and then leading the local police in raids against animal smugglers. In 1998, for instance, they coordinated simultaneous raids on a pet shop and a street booth at a spice market in Istanbul where baby chimpanzees were being sold. ''We were each given police escorts with machine guns,'' Mrs. Cronin said in an telephone interview yesterday. ''Still, the people were drawing their fingers across their throats.'' Two chimps that had had their teeth removed and been drugged were taken to wildlife sanctuaries in Turkey. The Cronins have rescued animals from circuses, from laboratories and from use in TV commercials. James Michael Cronin was born Nov. 15, 1951, a son of John and Margaret Battaglia Cronin. His father was a union official. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his mother, who lives in Yonkers; a daughter, Eleanor, of Plymouth, England; a sister, Debbie Nuñez of Yonkers; and a brother, John, of Cold Spring, N.Y., the director of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries in Beacon, N.Y. Mr. Cronin did not go to college. But as a child he was fascinated by wildlife, voraciously reading books and watching documentaries on the subject. After high school, he began traveling across the United States, working at odd jobs like constructing elevators and doing steel work on bridges. In the late '70s, he got a job as a keeper at the Bronx Zoo. His passion for the animals caught the attention of zoo officials and led to a recommendation that he be hired by John Aspinall, the director of the Howletts Zoo in Kent, England. There, he began working with monkeys and gorillas. ''But he had it in the back of his mind that he would have his own wildlife park someday,'' Mrs. Cronin said, ''and that he would create environs that are akin to natural environments.'' In 1987, Mr. Cronin received a $35,000 business loan, guaranteed by the British government, and signed a lease for the abandoned pig farm in Dorset. One by one, he began constructing fenced-in two-acre enclosures, filling them with climbing structures made from telephone poles, ropes, mats and fire hoses. Soon after, he heard about baby chimps being used as photographers' props -- drugged and dressed in costumes -- along the beaches of Spain. Working with local animal activists, he approached Spanish authorities and agreed that if the police confiscated the animals, he would provide them with a refuge. Since then, 35 chimpanzees have been taken to Monkey World from Spain. Monkey World is now home to 165 animals, including 59 chimps, 13 orangutans and 18 gibbons as well as woolly monkeys, marmosets, lemurs and capuchin monkeys, and is a tourist attraction that doubles as an education in international wildlife law. Mrs. Cronin, who began working with her future husband in 1990, said they had cooperated with governments in 14 countries to stop the international trade in primates. In 2003, she said, they went to Thailand, where they spotted 115 orangutans in several parks. ''Orangutans only come from two islands, Borneo and Sumatra,'' she said. ''Smugglers would kill the mothers, stuff the babies in baskets and then smuggle them out by small boats.'' Within a week, the parks were raided and the animals distributed to sanctuaries in Borneo, where they may eventually be released into the wild.

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