Set amongst the woodland of Dorset lays 30 hectares of sanctuary for over 240 primates. Monkey World is not a zoo, but a refuge, an Ape Rescue Centre that had been the dream of Jim Cronin, its founder.
Jim Cronin, born and raised in Yonkers, New York, discovered that his passion was working with animals and the conservation of wildlife when he worked as a zookeeper at Bronx Zoo in the 1970s. Next, he took up the job of primate zookeeper at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, UK. Probably influenced by the ideas of John Aspinall, the eccentric founder and owner of Howletts, but foremost by his own excessive amount of compassion he wanted to create a cageless animal park specialising in rescued primates. And use his skills and knowledge of dietary, social, scientific and theoretical aspects of animal welfare for the benefit of abused and exploited primates. He wanted to build such a rescue centre based on the concept developed by Wim Mager, the Dutch photographer, who wanted to have a park where apes could wander around in huge, forest-like enclosures. Mager’s concept had materialised in Apenheul Primate Park at Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.
Although nobody took him serious at first, he pulled it off. Partly because his enthusiasm was infectious, but foremost because of his dedication and perseverance while endlessly searching for a site and finances to realise his dream. First Jim found a site where his sanctuary could be developed, a disused pig farm in Dorset. Only to find that a planning permission was not easily arranged. He encountered a lot of scepticism and the local community was not thrilled by the thought of having wild monkeys as neighbours. But after an appeal the permission was acquired.
In the autumn of 1986 Jim Cronin resigned at Howletts to concentrate on turning his dream into reality. This basically meant that Jim had to pursue finances. Soon he was successful in gaining the necessary funds, but the downside of these business loans was that the money-lenders, one of them became partner in the endeavour, demanded Monkey World to open next summer. And while there were no decent enclosures yet, only some disused barns, already a first shipment of ring-tailed lemurs arrived from a science laboratory. Many more ex-laboratory monkey were acquired in this period, such as douroucoulis, tamarins, marmosets, squirrel monkeys and crab-eating macaques. This increased the pressure to create fit-for-purpose enclosures quickly. Especially, because Jim had committed to taking the nine chimpanzees from the British expat couple Simon and Peggy Templer, who were taking care of young chimpanzees used as beach photographers’ props that had been confiscated by the Spanish authorities. As a matter of fact when Jim heard of the chimpanzees used as photographers’ props, the abuse and their hopeless situation, he wanted to help and this is when the idea of Monkey World was hatched. Jim became close friends with the Templers and told the Spanish authorities that, if they continued to confiscate the illegal chimps, he would build a sanctuary to care for them all.
On 7 August 1987 Jim Cronin’s dream came true when Monkey World was opened to the public. The first public responses were not always positive. Which was not per se unexpected, because the monkeys that were on display had been rescued from laboratories and hesitant to explore their new enclosures at the park. Besides the fact that at the time the park was still desolate, having been built on the grounds of a derelict pig farm. But Jim was convinced that the park and it’s mission would be embraced by visitors if they knew what he was trying to achieve.
From then on the rescue operations expanded, new facilities for the monkeys and apes were designed and built, with Jim never stopping to encourage others to join him in his mission. Which also became the mission of Jeremy Keeling, one of Jim’s earliest ‘partners in crime’. They showed the mainstream zoo community that it was possible to use electric fences to confine chimpanzees and get away from the wrought-iron cages. More enclosure design innovations were developed when more money became available, although they were always on a tight budget. Nevertheless, on March 8, 1991, Jim Cronin became the sole owner of Monkey World and negotiated a new lease with the landlord that enabled him to buy the park.
When Jim married Alison Ames, a behavioural expert, in 1996, Monkey World was further developed from the original small refuge into the 30 hectares wildlife park that is home to more than 240 rescued primates of 15 different species today. It is rated as one of the most popular family destinations in England. In 1998 the first of the well-loved television series Monkey Business was screened. It documented Monkey World’s frequent rescue missions, undercover investigations, and day-to-day life of its inhabitants. It was shown on Animal Planet and later on Channel 5 as Monkey Life in over 140 countries worldwide. This documentaries that were screened for over a decade helped to spread the word about Monkey World’s mission.
In 2006 Jim and Alison were awarded the honour of Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for Services to Animal Welfare. Unfortunately, Jim Cronin was diagnosed with liver cancer early 2007 and passed away on 17 March 2007 at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan. But Jim’s legacy will continue under the guidance of his wife, Dr Alison Cronin. Monkey World has set up a UK registered charity in memory of Jim to continue his legacy.
In January 2008 Monkey World rescued, in probably the world’s biggest primate rescue mission, 88 capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) from a laboratory in Santiago, Chile. Some of the monkeys had lived in the lab for twenty years and some were born there. All were kept in small individual cages that were hung on the wall. They had no outdoor or natural areas and had never seen daylight. The monkeys were used for biomedical and/or pharmaceutical research. In Monkey World the capuchins were rehabilitated into four separate natural living groups in outdoor enclosures that accommodated their needs, a process of months.
At Monkey World they rehabilitate the primates that are rescued from illegal (pet) trade and research facilities, into large social groups if necessary, but they keep the females on birth control. They do not allow their animals to breed in order to have the space and funding to rescue others, as there are still many primates that need rescuing. Two exceptions are made though. Adult mixed groups are allowed to have one baby every 4 – 5 years as the infant is an important part of the group and contributes to expression of normal behaviour and therefore is essential for their welfare. Another exception is made for the species that are involved in the European Endangered species Programme (EEP). For this species it is essential that they breed to contribute to the goals of the EEPs. Monkey World takes part in the EEPs for Bornean orangutans, golden-cheeked gibbons and woolly monkeys.
Monkey World has teamed up with the Pingtung Rescue Centre for Endangered Wild Animals in Taiwan to try to stop the smuggling of gibbons and orang-utans from the wild. Both institutes were the driving force behind the start in 2008 of Dao Tien Rescue Centre for Primate Species in southern Vietnam, where amongst others rehabilitation in situ takes place. Furthermore, Monkey World has set up a charity, the Endangered Asian Species Trust (EAST), to support conservation work in south-east Asia. Last but not least Monkey World works with governments around the world to halt the illegal smuggling of apes out of Africa and Asia.
(Sources: monkeyworld.org; jimcroninmemorialfund.org; Monkey World guide book; Jeremy & Amy by Jeremy Keeling, 2010; Wikipedia)