Apenheul began in 1971 as a small but revolutionary zoo. The first and only zoo in the world(!) where monkeys can roam freely in the forest and are also free to walk around the visitors, which allows close envounters to happen. The zoo began with the woolly monkeys, the spider monkeys and a few other small species. In a short period of time it was proven that not only the visitors, but also the monkeys were satisfied with this concept. The freedom allowed the animals to interact more naturally compared to other captive environments. It delivered ideal social groups and perfect reproduction. The breeding successes were the main reason for Apenheul to expand and to gradually acquire other primate species. The gorilla, the biggest of all apes, came in 1976. These fine animals were, by the way, not allowed to get in to close phys ical contact with the visitors, of course. Three years later, in 1979, the first gorilla babies were born, followed by many more. Every baby was raised in the gorilla group by the mother and this was very unique in those days! All those successes brought not only more visitors to Apenheul, but also primatologists (primate scientists) from all around the world who came to see “the completed masterpiece”.
(Source: website Apenheul)
Apenheul Primate Park opened its gates to the public on 12 July 1971. The ideas of founder, Wim Mager, were considered controversial. Having monkeys and humans walking around without any barriers between the representatives of the two species was unusual and never tried before. The close encounters with the woolly monkeys – one of the few species the ‘experiment’ started with – together with the accompanying stories about deforestation of tropical rainforests should get across better the message that nature conversation is vital for the long-term viability of Planet Earth, according to Wim Mager. The first three years with woolly monkeys, spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys, proved to be commercially successful, which led to a City Council decision to extend the zoological park with gorillas. So in 1976, the Gorilla island was opened – with gorillas that were sourced from the wild. New knowledge and insights about the transmission of disease between (human) primates and human beings led to the decision that no close encounters with gorillas should be possible. Hence, the development of the island enclosure.
There are not many zoological institutions in the world that dedicate all their efforts to a single taxonomic order, primate species. The Duke Lemur Center in Durham, USA, is focussed on lemur species particularly and considers itself a living laboratory where research can be conducted that serves biological conservation of lemurs. Monkey World in Wareham, UK, however, is primarily a primate rescue centre for abused apes and monkeys. Jim Cronin, the founder of Monkey World, more or less built the rescue centre based on the concept developed by Wim Mager, founder of Apenheul Primate Park. Compared to the aforementioned institutions Apenheul is more like a mainstream zoological facility. Although all three are involved in breeding programmes. Duke coordinates the International Studbooks (ISB) for three sifaka subspecies (Propithecus spp.), Monkey World contributes to the European Endangered species Programmes (EEP) for Bornean orangutan, woolly monkeys and golden-cheeked gibbon, while Apenheul is coordinating three EEPs and is involved in many others, see . But Apenheul is much more of a regular zoo than the other two, with its café, restaurants, children playgrounds and a small tropical petting farm with Nubian goats, dwarf goats and zebu.
The mission of founder Wim Mager was to bring people into contact, close contact, with primates to help them understand that these animals are part of our world and endangered. Which is a small step from being engaged in conservation activities, which developed into the Apenheul Primate Conservation Trust (APCT) and Apenheul Nature Fund (ANF).
It has been nearly 30 years since I’ve visited Apenheul, which was much smaller then. The squirrel monkeys were the main attraction at the time, and you would see those rascals stealing food and jumping on strollers. Although I do not recognise much from that time, or the be fairly honest – all is new to me, the squirrel monkeys are still there. Nowadays it is the Bolivian subspecies, which has access to enormous fully grown trees and can easily avoid close encounters if they want to.
In Apenheul Primate Park most of the monkeys may roam freely among the visitors. There is no other zoo in the world where you will have the opportunity to come into close contact with so many monkeys (apes are off limit): more than 200 of them. Only in some dedicated parts the monkeys are not allowed – in general this means at the café, restaurants and children entertainment areas. According zoo management the monkeys are very friendly and harmless. Nevertheless, they advise to make your pockets and bags ‘monkey proof’ to curtail curious activities of the monkeys. In fact, staff members will point this out to you at the entrance. You can leave your personal belongings in free lockers at the entrance or, if you would rather take them with you and do not trust your own bag, Apenheul will provide you with a ‘monkey-proof bag’ that you can return when leaving the park.
Personally, I am not convinced that close encounters with captive species will make people think differently about conservation, biodiversity, and species extinction than a visit to a zoo where all animals are clearly separated from the public. But the option of a close encounter makes you understand that you enter their home – their turf, their rules – and that you are nothing more than a visitor.
In principle there is only one route around the park, without many alternatives or short-cuts. When you follow this route, along the exhibits as numbered on the map, you will see all there is to see. Easy!
After I had my morning coffee at the Café Lazy Monkey I start my tour like anybody else at the amazing free ranging Bolivian squirrel monkeys. You know they say you can only make a first impression once, and Apenheul really does make a first impression with this exhibit. Of course, it’s not a South American tropical forest, but the forest here allows the monkeys to do what they do in their natural habitat and spend time in the canopy if they wish. So they can do whatever they want, they can check you out or completely ignore you – it’s their territory so they are the boss.
From this point onwards it becomes more visible that most of the enclosures are surrounded by water, a natural barrier to keep primates within their designated areas. All the enclosures are of a considerable size and provide plenty of enrichment, either via natural vegetation and trees or artificially with ropes, hammocks and dead tree trunks.
The critically endangered yellow-breasted capuchins (Cebus xanthosternos) have successfully bred in 2013 (newborn 08.09.2013). On their island in the centre of the squirrel monkey section with a dense undergrowth they have steel pipes, ropes and rope nets as enrichment features. Next door a similar island is inhabited by howler monkeys, only they have real trees instead of steel pipes to climb in.
The information panels at the exhibits provide good information on the species regarding habitat, geographical origin and specifics about their food for instance. This is done in three languages, Dutch, English and German. Surprisingly, no information is given on the species’ conservation status using its IUCN Red List classification. Nowadays, this is a common and well-accepted way to indicate how endangered the species is.
They have also a few non-primate species on display. Some of them are housed together with primates and form a community which is more and more common in zoos nowadays. For instance the crowned sifakas and Alaotran gentle lemurs share their exhibit with the vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum). It’s the first mixed-species exhibit I see en route at Apenheul and also the first that hasn’t got an open top outdoor enclosure. Moreover it is the first enclosure that doesn’t have much natural vegetation and looks fabricated. Perhaps this is the single most traditional building in the zoo. Apparently, the sifakas don’t mind because they had offspring born on 5 February this year. The newborn attracts much attention and it is hard to get a glimpse of the animals inside.
Other mixed-species exhibits, with a mix of primate and other species from South America, comprise woolly monkeys, pudus (world’s smallest deer) together with red-footed tortoise and spider monkeys with capybaras (world’s largest rodent).
Furthermore there’s a nice circular exhibit surrounded by a water-filled moat with huge trees and much other vegetation. At the large Barbary macaques area you’ll find other African species as well – Waldrapp ibis, common gundi and Cameroon sheep. In addition to all these species you’ll findat several spots on the premises, and Visayan warty pig. According zoo management this reflects the normal situation in the wild where primates share space with other species, and they are a nice addition as well.
Moving on, I arrive at one of the three great ape species to be seen here at Apenheul (excluding the individuals that roam freely around the premises – humans), the bonobos. They originate from several zoos in Europe and America, and take part in the EEP. Additionally, the zoo has bonobos on loan from the government of the Democratic Republic Congo. In return Apenheul – via the APCT (Apenheul Primate Conservation Trust) helps institutions in Congo setting up nature conservation projects. They also help in the care of seized bonobos at a shelter near Kinshasa.
At the next section with the lemurs from Madagascar I am astonished about the total lack of fear they have of human beings. When you look at the picture you see a ring-tailed lemur mum with a recent born young checking out a stroller if it is just another feeding enrichment features. They are very successfully breeding those ring-tailed lemurs (part of the ESB) with six born in March and April of this year. The lemur species on display at Apenheul are: crowned sifaka, alaotran gentle lemur, black-and-white ruffed lemur, red ruffed lemur, red-bellied lemur and blue-eyed black lemur. All lemurs are endangered species. Deforestation on Madagascar is the main threat. To protect the Critically Endangered blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) Apenheul supports the Sahamalaza project that intends to achieve nature conservation and better use of natural resources in Madagascar.
The lemurs roam around freely in their own personal environment that includes houses with thatched roofs to shelter from bad weather.
The second great ape to admire is the Bornean orangutan. They have four indoor enclosures at their disposal, and four related outdoor peninsulas as well. The new exhibit has just recently, a month before my visit, been taken into use. They could do with larger facilities I would say, and the peninsulas do have a lot of enrichment but have a total lack of vegetation. The public however is served well with some superb viewing platforms. One way they enrich the environment for the orangutans is by having wooden blocks with little holes hung on several tree trunks with seeds inserted in these holes. This should entice exploratory feeding behaviour in the apes, mimicking the search for food for hours a day in the wild.
On my way to the gorillas I enjoy something extraordinary that outside Asia can only be seen here at Apeldoorn, proboscis monkeys. Apenheul has them on display since 2011, but they don’t fare so good unfortunately (see also ). From the proboscis monkeys I take the shortcut that provides great views at the Barbary macaques territory and the lion-tailed macaques island on the other side, leading to another highlight of the tour.
A few paragraphs earlier I mentioned that all enclosures are of a considerable size. Well, I want to make an exception for the western lowland gorilla island, because this one is enormous and comprises trees, a variety of bushes and other enrichment. The gorillas create a community with L’Hoest’s monkey (Cercopithecus lhoesti) and the ground-dwelling patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas). But I guess this will hardly ever give any trouble because of the sheer size of the exhibit. Individuals can simply ignore each other and seek their own private place. The gorillas are doing just fine in this environment, because they have a good breeding track record here at Apenheul with 2011 as a record setting year in the worldwide zoo community, 5 newborns were welcomed in one year.
After having seen all three species of great apes next in line is the lesser ape they have on display, the northern white-cheeked gibbon. Although it is hard to provide them with a habitat that resembles the subtropical rainforest with huge trees and canopy, they achieved something quite similar. The enclosure is very large and has got large trees and additional enrichment with ropes and a climbing frame. I stay here for quite some time, and these gibbons are really looking at ease in this environment, brachiating in the trees, using the ropes as if they are in their original habitat in the rainforests of South East Asia (see ).
Then there is an elevated boardwalk by which you cross an area with on your right hand side white-headed capuchin (Cebus capucinus) and on the left black-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps robustus) together with capybara. Also on the right hand side you can see the bonobos again, which means that the tour around the premises is nearly completed at this point.
After leaving the boardwalk there’s an area with free ranging golden-headed lion tamarin, red titi en pied tamarin, close to the nocturnal house. The last enclosure I have a look at before making my way to the exit is the neighbouring mixed-species exhibit I mentioned before. It comprises woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagothricha), pudu and red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria). The enrichment for the woolly monkeys is an actual monkey bars made of tree trunks and ropes.
Apenheul has taken the ‘Hagenbeck principle’ to another level. Not only can you see almost all animals in bar-less enclosures that resemble their original habitat, but you can even step into their world. It’s a delight to see all animals express natural behaviour and how relaxed they are despite their captivity.
“Extreme fight” between white-headed capuchins
There is always a reason and place for a good play-fight, and these two white-headed capuchin youngsters prove it.
A nice athletic performance by two northern white-cheeked gibbons (Nomascus leucogenys) at Apenheul, Apeldoorn, Netherlands, called ‘Dancing in the Trees’.
Free ranging squirrel monkeys
So great, to see these little critters roaming around freely as if there are no boundaries at all.
Orangutan youngsters showing us the ropes
Two young orangutan boys show their excellent rope climbing technique. While Kawan, the oldest (male, 22.02.2010), is doing tricks at considerable height, the younger Kesatu (male, 01.11.2011) stays close to the ground. But both are being closely watched over by their mothers.
Gorilla and L’hoest monkey interaction
It seems that the L’hoest monkeys (Cercopithecus lhoesti) are challenging the two young western lowland gorillas. But it does not come to a real confrontation.
At the end of July (2011) three male Proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus) will join the species collection of the Primate Park. The monkeys will transfer from Singapore Zoo.
Borneo is the sole habitat where the species can be seen in the wild. The species is on display in just a few Asian zoos.
Today, 26 June 2011, the fourth gorilla baby of this year has been born in Apenheul Primate Park. The relatively young female Nemsi, 10 years old, became mother for the first time. This could be the reason the baby was born slightly ahead of schedule, but both mother and child are doing very well. So, they are on display as of today. As soon as the baby’s gender is known it will be given an appropriate name.
Source: website Apenheul Primate Park
The proboscis monkey in the Netherlands
The proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) or long-nosed monkey is one of the largest monkey species native to Asia, also known as the ‘bekantan’ in Indonesia. It is a reddish-brown arboreal Old World monkey that is endemic to the southeast Asian island of Borneo, where it co-exists with the Bornean orangutan. In Indonesia they sometimes use the name ‘monyet belanda’ (Dutch monkey) or even ‘orang belanda’ (Dutchman), as the Dutch colonisers often had similarly large bellies and noses, according the Indonesians.
Unfortunately the species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, because it has undergone extensive population reductions across its entire range. Numbers have declined by more than 50% over the past 40 years. Even more worrisome is that most populations remain threatened by ongoing hunting and habitat destruction.
This justifies both in-situ and ex-situ conservation efforts. Although conservation projects have been operating in regions with native populations of proboscis monkeys, there wasn’t a breeding programme for the proboscis monkey when Apenheul Primate Park was offered a bachelor group of three by the Singapore Zoo in 2011. Only a few zoos had this species in their collection, and all these zoos were located in Asia.
Singapore Zoo wanted to set up a breeding programme together with another zoo. They couldn’t find such a partner in Asia, and that was when Apenheul came in. It was decided that Apenheul would take the lead in setting up such a programme for the proboscis monkey, and in July 2011 the bachelor group arrived in Apeldoorn. Thus Apenheul became the only zoo outside Asia to keep proboscis monkeys in captivity.
But keeping the proboscis monkey is not an easy task. It’s a real challenge. The monkey requires a specific diet with lots of fresh leaves of non-hardy trees. To build up a stock for the winter months kilos of these leaves needs to be frozen. Moreover, they are true gourmets and will only eat the best and tastiest.
The species lived up to its reputation and no matter how skilled and experienced Apenheul staff was, and how much effort was put into it, they couldn’t keep the monkeys healthy. Since 2011 five proboscis monkeys were welcomed at Apenheul, but four of them died – due to various reasons. Therefore, in June 2015, Apenheul management decided to stop trying to keep the species. In May a 13-year old male had died, and as a consequence there was only one specimen left. In the wild proboscis monkeys live in groups, so keeping a single individual is a very unnatural situation. The ‘survivor’ was therefore returned to Singapore Zoo, in September 2015, where he will live in a proboscis monkey community again.
Despite these unfortunate results Apenheul will remain involved in the breeding programme, supporting and collaborating with Singapore Zoo to conserve this species for the future.
(Source: Wikipedia; IUCN Red List; website Apenheul Primate Park)
Directions to Apenheul Primate park
J.C. Wilslaan 21
There is a bus from Apeldoorn railway station to Apenheul every fifteen minutes, which takes you to the park in about 10 minutes . Take bus #2 in the direction of Apenheul (bus stop Apenheul, another 1 minute walk to the entrance), or bus #6 in the direction of Orden/Rijkskantoren (bus stop Waltersingel, another 8 minutes walk to the entrance).
Or you can hire a bicycle at the station of course.
Call 0900 – 9292 (€ 0,72 p.m.) or plan your visit at www.9292ov.nl/en.
Apenheul is located West of the city of Apeldoorn in an area rich of nature and camping sites. Together with the plethora of cycle paths and the many signposts to Apenheul, it is a great environment to have a bicycle ride to the primate park. You will find many bicycle shops with bikes for hire in case you haven’t got one yourself.
Apenheul is situated less than 45 minutes from major cities Utrecht (via motorway A28, then A1) and Nijmegen (via motorway A50, then A1), and about one hour drive from Amsterdam (motorway A1). The way to Apenheul is clearly signposted in and around Apeldoorn, on motorway E30/A1 the required exit is clearly indicated. There is plenty of parking available near the zoo. From the car park, cross the street and walk straight onto the pavement. Follow the path to the left alongside the pond, in the direction of the park entrance.
Download the zoo map (in Dutch) here.