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  RPPN FELICIANO MIGUEL ABDALA | HISTORY  
     
    Born to a Lebanese immigrant married to a Brazilian woman, Feliciano Miguel Abdalla found himself drawn to working on the land as if that had been his calling all along. Unlike his father, a business dealer, he fell in love with the idea of working the earth to earn his livelihood. Young and dashing, he would often dream of acquiring this stunning property located near the spot where his transporting mules, laden with goods, stopped for an overnight rest. Till one winter morning in 1944, amid a mist-shrouded landscape, Feliciano invited "Seu Benzinho", the owner of Fazenda Montes Claros, for a tête-à-tête.

Their long-lived friendship smoothed out the negotiation and, shortly thereafter, they sorted out the deal on a handshake. Seu Benzinho did impose one condition for the deal, though: Feliciano should swear to protect the woods on the property. Relieved to find out that it was such a simple request, Feliciano assured him that he would gladly do so, as he had always shared his friend's enthusiasm for the beauty and exuberance of those woods. It would be hard to imagine that those two men were right then and there writing one of the most exquisite chapters in the history of environmental preservation in Brazil and
 
sealing the fate of the northern muriqui, the largest and the most important monkey in the Americas.

Preserving the woods would turn out to be no easy feat; especially in those days when hacking down trees was something to be proud of and a reason for throwing barbecue parties for the pioneers who sought to expand agricultural land in Minas Gerais. While some called him crazy and many failed to understand him at all, Feliciano kept his share of the Atlantic forest unspoiled despite the other farmers' criticism.

On several occasions he bravely stood up against hunters who insisted on his property and those who came looking for timber and hearts of palms. He would often show the bullet marks on the outside of his farmhouse, as the 'prize' he had won for his perseverance in stopping them. He would always recommend to his employees that they avoid hitting the hunters' dogs. "After all, it is not animals that pull the trigger", he said.

It was only when the 60s were drawing to an end that he came to meet a new breed interested in the woods: they were to be known as 'researchers'. After so many years of being a lone crusader in his preservation efforts, it wasn't without some suspicion that he greeted this new figure who alleged to be in search of information only.
Firstly with Professor Álvaro Aguirre and then with Professor Celio Valle, the hidden treasures in the woods were opened to the scientific community. In 1977, Professor Akira Nishimura started the first systemic study about the Muriquis, paving the way for many others who would come to join Feliciano in the task

Of preserving that precious stretch of Atlantic forest. Among the pioneers was Dr. Russell Mittermeier, who came to present the forest and its muriquis to Dr. Karen Strier, a researcher, who for the last 24 years has been looking into their habits and social organization, presenting the world with fascinating and surprising discoveries about the biggest and most peaceful primate in the Americas.

In donating a small house in the heart of the forest so that researchers could have a place to do their work, Feliciano came up on a way of keeping the forest under constant surveillance and guaranteeing its preservation. The initiative gave him a great number of friends and admirers who would accompany him, even from afar, for the rest of his life. When in June 2000, Feliciano passed away at the age of 92, he took with him the certainty that he had left a legacy of far-reaching respect and love for nature.


Ramiro Abdala Passos