Monkey See, Monkey Do

4th May 2010

Primates face an abundance of factors threatening to put them into extinction, but we can still prevent their loss if we so choose. Surprisingly, many people are not aware of, or choose to ignore, the fact that there are so many primate species on the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, primate conservation is low on the list of priorities for a lot of countries (including ours). The only way things are going to change is if people can learn to respect the other primates as not only a valuable component in the planets ecosystems, but also as our closest species relatives who are in dire need of our help.


Since Monkeyland opened its doors to the public in 1998, the sanctuary has changed the way people think about primates.


Many zoos and sanctuaries throughout the World have followed Monkeyland’s lead (monkey see, monkey do) and now provide more natural environments for their lemurs, monkeys and apes to live in. 


The great thing about Monkeyland is that it is an unforgettable place to visit; the tours are fun, exciting and educational; and the animals are all happy, healthy and living as they should – wild and free in a natural habitat.


There is no need to travel to Madagascar to see a wild troop of Ringtail lemurs, Monkeyland has 36 – the largest group outside Madagascar!  Visiting South America to see Squirrel Monkeys and Capuchins?  Monkeyland has over 100 Squirrel monkeys and 95 Capuchins – the largest free-living groups outside South America. There are many more species which call Monkeyland their sanctuary and have done so for over a decade now. 


What is a sanctuary? An animal sanctuary is a facility where animals are brought to live and be protected for the rest of their lives. Unlike animal shelters, sanctuaries do not seek to re-home animals; instead they care for each animal until his or her natural death. In some cases, an establishment may have characteristics of both a sanctuary and a shelter; for instance, some animals may be in residence temporarily until a suitable home is found and others may be permanent residents. The mission of sanctuaries is generally to be safe havens, where the animals receive the best care that the sanctuaries can provide. Most importantly, sanctuaries do not sell or trade with the animals in their care, nor are the animals used for filming television commercials, posed-for photo opportunities and animal testing. The resident animals are given the opportunity to behave as naturally as possible in a protective environment.


What distinguishes a sanctuary from other institutions is the philosophy that the residents come first. In a sanctuary, every action is scrutinized for any trace of human benefit at the expense of non-human residents. Sanctuaries act on behalf of the animals, and the caregivers work under the notion that all animals in the sanctuary, human and non-human, are of equal importance.


A sanctuary is not open to the public in the sense of a zoo; that is, the public is not allowed unescorted access to any part of the facility. A sanctuary tries not to allow any activity that would place the animals in an unduly stressful situation. One of the most important missions of sanctuaries, beyond caring for the animals, is educating the public. The ultimate goal of a sanctuary should be to change the way that humans think of, and treat, non-human animals.


How many living primate species exist today is not clear.  The number varies depending on whether closely related groups are considered to be varieties of each other or distinct species.  Most estimates are in the range of 230-270.  The problem is the fact that every few years’ new kinds of primates are found.  The tropical forests of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia may still be hiding sub-species that are unknown to the scientific world. 


Many primate species are now in danger of becoming extinct.  The primary cause is deforestation, driven ultimately by the ever-escalating human population growth.  Additional pressure is placed on primate populations by humans hunting them as a food source (bush meat) and also by capturing and selling them into the pet trade.   Despite the fact that the sale of "bush meat" is outlawed in most countries, it is now being sold illegally in Europe and North America and all over Asia.  It can even be bought at stores that cater to African immigrants in Paris, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, and some other major cities including cities in South Africa.   


Monkeys and apes are our closest living relatives in the animal world and their facial features bear a striking resemblance to ours. As such, many individuals purchase baby monkeys/apes believing that these primates will be a suitable "substitute" or a "surrogate" for human children. Others are inundated with images of nonhuman primates in advertisements, on television and in the movies, which depict infant, and adolescent primates as "cute and cuddly". Often the naive viewers are given the impression that nonhuman primates would make ideal 'pets'. These individuals are - at best -misguided. The keeping of monkeys as pets is undoubtedly one of the worst scenarios that could befall them.  It is unfortunate that, monkeys and apes have become popular in the exotic animal 'pet' trade, and relatively easily obtainable. A quick search on the Internet alone reveals a few dozen web sites that currently specialize in selling baby monkeys and apes as pets.


Though infant monkeys and apes (like all mammalian species) are completely dependent on their caretakers, nonhuman primates are not domesticated, and their instincts remain very much intact in captivity. Adult monkeys and apes exhibit aggression and instinctively bite and scratch when provoked. Individuals possessing primate species often attempt to change the nature of the monkey/ape rather than the nature of the care provided. Such tactics include confinement in small barren enclosures, chaining, shocking, beating "into submission," or even painful mutilations, such as tooth and nail removal. Non-human primates do not make good 'pets'. They require special care, housing, diet, and need to live in well-structured family groups, something the average person cannot provide. When in the hands of private individual’s monkeys and apes typically suffer due to poor care, boredom and isolation. A life in a backyard, basement or garage cage cannot even begin to meet these very social primates' instinctual needs and desires, such as seeking a mate, raising young, foraging, basking in the sun, and establishing territories. Non-human primates are social animals, and they need to be around their own kind for healthy mental development. Human substitutes are not capable of filling this need.


Something else that needs to be mentioned is that baby monkeys and apes destined for the 'pet' trade are literally "pulled" away from their protective mothers when they are only hours or days old. Remember, commercial gain (not compassion) is the breeder's motivation.


Infant monkeys/apes and their biological mothers typically suffer depression from the forced separation. "Breeder" females are often purposely impregnated at a frequency which can be 4-6 times higher than the species would breed in natural circumstances, leading to serious and often fatal/crippling abnormalities like hemorrhaging and severe bone mass depletion. Bottom-line: purchasing an infant primate is supporting an unscrupulous trade. The only "winner" in this scenario is the dealer or breeder who profited from selling the baby monkey/ape. Like all wild animals, monkeys, lemurs and apes should be living in their natural habitats, not in situations where humans attempt to force domestication on them.


You can help by not becoming part of the problem. Educate yourself and your family and friends. Discourage those around you from contributing to the suffering inherent in the tragic 'pet' primate trade.


You can also help primates by refusing to buy any product tested on animals. When buying wood products or products from rainforests and other primate habitat, make sure you seek out companies that use sustainable logging and farming practices. For example, palm oil plantations in Borneo are delving into orangutans’ natural habitat. Palm oil is used in things like soap, processed foods, and personal care products. By checking labels on these products, you can make sure you’re not contributing to the destruction.


Oppose the use of primates in entertainment such as movies, commercials, television shows, circuses and the like: don’t spend money on entertainment or products that exploit primates, or any animal or that matter.


Avoid profiteers who use primates as photo props (sometimes found at tourist attractions especially in Asia). Support projects that protect primates in the wild and/or in natural habitats. Don't visit roadside type zoos that keep primates in small cages. Don't frequent markets that sell primates as pets or hotels that keep them, and always where possible educate others about the plight of primates.


There is so much we can do to ensure that future generations will have the privilege to see primates as they should be living - free and in a natural habitat.


As Dr. Seuss said in The Lorax "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not."

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