“One of the most interesting concepts from the bird park story is that, when starting your own enterprise, it’s never possible to correctly assess all the risks or the possibility of success.
Successful enterprise is about just starting something and then going all out, fighting to the death and developing your product as you go along. Most people are far too sensible to start their own business.”
Carmel Croukamp, Park Das Aves
I first met the Croukamps on the Isle of Man. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit their park, but how many of them know and understand what it took to get started? That is the story I would like them to share with you.
In Carmel’s own words:
The Bird Park
The Bird Park is a social and conservation enterprise in the endangered Atlantic Rainforest. We’re set right next to the Iguassu National Park, home of the magnificent Iguassu Falls. We make our money from tourism, charging entry fees for a unique experience of close contact with native birds in the jungle. This enables us to breed native and endangered species, conduct scientific research and educate locals on the environment.
Parque das Aves Brazil was started by Dennis and Anna Croukamp in 1993. Dennis was an entrepreneur, Anna a vet. They both fell in love with parrots when a friend gave them a tiny, bald, ugly baby African Grey parrot, which they hand raised and which became a member of the family, flying free outside during the day, eating at the dinner table and going to sleep under a tea towel on Dennis’ lap every evening. Eventually, they had quite a collection of parrots.
When they retired to the Isle of Man, Dennis got very bored. One day, a former manager of his came to visit and told Dennis of this place in Brazil with the most beautiful waterfalls, and that he thought they should build a crocodile farm there together. Dennis said, “I don’t like crocodiles, I like birds”.
Opportunity, and Tragedy
The idea was initially just to put together a project and to raise capital from larger investors. In those days, the Brazilian currency, the Cruzeiro, was still in hyperinflation, and the rule of law, actually only few years after the collapse of the dictatorship, was pretty sparse, especially in the notorious Triple Frontier (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina) region. The Ernst and Young handbook on how to do business in Brazil said: “Don’t”.
Almost inevitably, the investment deals fell through. Dennis lost his business partner, and he was left with the decision of losing all the capital he had put up so far, or of going all in and risking his entire retirement fund to finance it all himself. Dennis was passionate about this project. He decided to risk everything.
He spoke no Portuguese, he knew nothing about building a zoo or of tourism, in a climate fundamentally uninviting to entrepreneurship. He poured all the money he had left into the park. Dennis and Anna sold their cars, jewelry, everything of value (Richard: In fact, my father bought Dennis Croukamp’s car).
They started building. When they ran out of money, they opened the park to a small trickle of visitors. Then Dennis died.