Great Day Out at Monkey World in Dorset

by JoHarrington

It's the other side of the country and I've still been back three times. Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre is worth the trip with your family.

Monkey World isn't just an English concern. The owner is American for a start.

Alison Cronin and the team travel all over the world rescuing monkeys and apes. The abused, traumatized, neglected or merely unwanted primates are given a new lease of life, in family groups or whole troupes of their own.

It's a wonderful thing to go and visit them. They achieved happiness at last and the delight is plain to see.

Hanging Out with the Great Apes Having Fun

Who said it was all wandering around looking at chimpanzees and orang-utans?

I couldn't remember when I'd last giggled so much. I was in danger of getting hiccups! But here I was, high above the ground, at the top of a chute slide big enough for adults.

It was the kind of thing that you're supposed to grow out of by the time you're ten. I'd done all that and now, as an adult, I was rediscovering the lure of the playground. Swings, roundabouts, adventure climbing frames and slides, all built large and sturdy enough for us to clamber upon.

It was fun! It was so much fun! And more to the point, this was only a tiny corner of the whole of Monkey World.  The rest was fascinating, entertaining, heart-breaking and charming, all wrapped up in the sense that you were walking through a living film set mixing with celebrities.

This is, after all, where the long-running TV show Monkey Life is filmed. We've sat wide-eyed, hoped and prayed, as we've watched the drama of some of those rescues unfold. Now we can see the primates at the center of that looking happy and healthy with their friends.

But for now I was at the top of the Great Apes Playground adult-friendly chute, noting that I too am a primate. Beneath that veneer of civilization and maturity, climbing up things is what we do best. But not half as well as we slide down, arms folded, legs straight, and the sudden whoosh of 'oh no!' as gravity takes us.

I laughed so much it hurt at the bottom of the slide. Then instantly did it all again.

Jeremy Keeling is Monkey World's Animal Director

Buy his hilarious, poignant and above all compelling autobiography to discover more about Monkey World.
Jeremy & Amy. Jeremy Keeling with Rick Broadbent

What is Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre?

This Dorset attraction has a serious side. Primates from all over the globe are given a safe haven here.

Twenty-five years ago, Jim Cronin arrived in Britain from America's New York Bronx. He bought an old pig farm and immediately began converting it into an animal sanctuary. But his passion wasn't for any native creature. It was for chimpanzees.

Mostly he was running on dreams and determination, coupled with an incredible gift of the gab. The results of that are plain to see in what his pig farm became.

For those visiting Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre without any of the context, then it's merely a huge site full of massive enclosures. There are monkeys as well as apes, all appearing healthy and thrilled with their lives.

What is not at all obvious is that they have each, without exception, escaped a traumatic past. If they hadn't, then they wouldn't be in a sanctuary in Dorset. They'd be in the wild, with their families.

Jim Cronin enlisted his friend Jeremy Keeling to ensure the well-being of these animals. Along the way, he met and married chimpanzee expert Alison Cronin. The trio traveled all over the globe, turning up whenever and wherever the primates needed them.

Jeremy and Alison still do, campaigning to change laws along the way, to prevent such stories ever having to be told again. As for Jim, this center and the whole enterprise must be seen as his legacy to the world. He unfortunately died in 2007.

Image: Sculpture of Charlie and Jim Cronin at Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre
Image: Sculpture of Charlie and Jim Cronin at Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre
Jo Harrington

Visiting my Adopted Son Bryan at Monkey World

He's growing so big now! Bless him! It seems like only yesterday he was a little baby.

I received strange looks after telling people what I'd had for Christmas. 

"I've adopted a chimpanzee!" I told them gleefully, enjoying the utter confusion that crossed their expressions. "His name is Bryan."

It took a few more horrified questions for them to ascertain that he wasn't actually living in my house. That would be a very bad idea. Primates are not pets, especially not chimpanzees. Even the babies are much stronger than the average human. The adult males have the capacity to pull your face off as soon as look at you, however much you think they're tame and part of your family.

My adopted son is much better off being left in the care of Monkey World and, more specifically, the guardianship of Sally. She's one of the most amazing chimpanzees I've ever encountered; and she runs the nursery with all that her little wards need.

Image: Sally at Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre
Image: Sally at Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre
Jo Harrington

I've visited Bryan three times from the safety of the walkway.  The last time I saw him, he was upset by the noise of nearby construction workers. They were expanding his own outside enclosure, but he wasn't to know that.

Screaming and distressed, he rushed into a corner and sat there rocking. A human member of staff obviously saw something which required a closer look. She closed a partition trapping him inside a smaller room. His shrieks grew louder. Suddenly there was Sally.

She'd also not been happy by being kept indoors with that infernal racket going on outside. Her display within the confines of the nursery taught all onlookers very well that, for all her intelligence and compassion, she is a wild animal.

Even Sally, with whom it's so easy to apply human traits, anthropomorphizing her into one of us, could kill.

But at Bryan's scream, her display stopped immediately and she appeared at the door of his cage. Her eyes focused with great interest upon what the keeper was doing.  Jeremy Keeling arrived. Sally stayed put. No temper nor complaint now. Her priorities had shifted and, despite any trust or bond between her and Jeremy, she was still going to stay right there for as long as Bryan was upset and separated from her.

Whatever the issue had been, Jeremy and the keeper appeared satisfied now. Within minutes the door was opened again and Bryan was back with Sally. He instantly calmed down; this big, hulking seven year old with the terrible past, huddling close to his surrogate chimpanzee mother.

A quick hug and he was off playing again, while Sally could get back to displaying her own distemper in peace.

This is a more extreme example of the sort of thing you will witness at Monkey World in Dorset. It's more likely that you'll merely watch whole troops of primates hanging out or at play. They live in as natural a setting as possible, forming their own hierarchies within their groups.

Bryan's story may help you understand why any of it is necessary at all.

Books about the African Great Apes and Humans

Buy these memoirs and studies to learn how encountering humans can be disastrous for gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Gorillas in the MistIn the Shadow of ManBonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love an...

The Heart-Breaking Story of Bryan the Chimpanzee

All viewers of Monkey Life arrive at Monkey World knowing the personal histories of these apes. We've watched them on the television and kept track with the newsletters.

Bryan (pictured left with Sally) first came to my attention when I was working as an English language content writer for a Mexican tour operator.  Within a week, he was adopted, nominally on behalf of the company, but in my name.

Unless they have been born to a mother already in captivity, then no chimpanzee baby should be outside Africa. All of those cute, oh-so-sedate photographer's props on resort beaches will be in trauma.

Bryan's story is typical. He was snatched by hunters from his mother's arms. She will almost certainly have been killed in the process and either left to rot or eaten as bush-meat.

She would not have been alone in that. All chimpanzees live in troops made up of their extended families. Others would have come to help her. Many would have ended up dead, while their babies were stuffed into suffocating boxes and taken away.

Two-thirds of infant chimps die before they even leave the jungle. Shock is only the start of it. They need their mother's milk.

But good prices can be fetched for them in Western countries especially. All over Europe and the Americas, the ignorant look for exotic pets; laboratories want test subjects to experiment upon; photographers and circuses need wild animals for commercial profit.

The hunters are also up against the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Being caught is to be prosecuted, so the terrified chimpanzees are smuggled across borders in cramped wooden cages. Most of them don't make it.

Bryan did. He was smuggled into Mexico via Cuba and fell into the hands of a beach photographer. The man already had an adult female chimpanzee called Coco. She was worked in the punishing heat, posing for pictures with tourists. Countless images emerged of her smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, being humanized with hats and clothes.

At around 18 months old, Bryan was held down and his baby teeth were smashed in his mouth. It wasn't surgically done. Fragments were later found embedded in his gums. But it kept him from biting the tourists. Tranquilizers and sedatives did the rest.

Fortunately for this little chimp, his plight quickly became reported to the Mexican authorities. He was confiscated and housed in a Cancun EcoPark. From there, he was brought to Monkey World.

Despite the noise from his new play area being constructed, Bryan appears so well now. He has Sally and the rest of the nursery group to look after him. It's been quite a journey, but he's safe and relatively happy.  And growing up so fast!

Books about Conservation Efforts to Save the Great Apes

The situation is more dire than you might suppose. Many primates are on the brink of extinction. Read on to learn more.
Among the Great Apes: Adventures on t...World Atlas of Great Apes and their C...The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True...

What to Expect from a Day Out at Monkey World

Fun, fascination and an apparent time-warp. At least several hours appeared to pass way too quickly while we were there!

All of those heart-break stories seem a million miles away, as you enter Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre.

Unless you've watched Monkey Life, or you read the histories displayed on the wall, you would never know what happened to them before arriving here. The monkeys and apes here can never be returned to the wild, but this is the next best thing.

Housed in family groups or troops, the animals live in vast enclosures. Great care is taken to fill their days with interesting diversions. Feeding time is naturally approached with great uproar and delight.

A full day can be spent drifting from one area to the next. Gibbons here, orang-utans there, capuchins, spider monkeys, lemurs and many more besides. What you won't find are any gorillas. The international gorilla sanctuary is in Germany, so any which came onto Monkey World's radar would be directed there.

Image: Two chimpanzees at Monkey World
Image: Two chimpanzees at Monkey World
Jo Harrington
Image: Gordon the Orang-utan at Monkey World
Image: Gordon the Orang-utan at Monkey World
Jo Harrington

This isn't a zoo. Any resident could easily disappear from view, out of sight of prying humans. That said, you will never leave there without seeing a huge selection of primates. The keepers are all friendly too. They will pause in their work to answer questions, above and beyond the regular keeper's talks given at various locations during the day.

Most of your day will be spent watching the primates, but there is the chance to be active too. I thought it was genius how the playground for younger children was right alongside the orang-utans. Many of the climbing frames were the same too. It just underscored that we are all primates here, hairless or orange.

Of course, peering into so many enclosures inevitably brings about the thought that it looks fun in there. We'd like to have a go on that swing or climb that netting. The apes are obviously enjoying it.

Which is why the Great Apes Playground (adults allowed) is an amazing find. We get to play too!

Films and DVDs about the Great Apes and Conservationists

Sigourney Weaver won an Oscar for 'Gorillas in the Mist'. Jane Goodall is a legend. Bonobos are truly amazing apes.
Gorillas in the MistNova: The Last Great Ape (Bonobos)Jane's Journey

Facilities and Amenities at Monkey World

I think that they excelled themselves. There's a real sense that visitors are important here, and not just as cash cows.

You will do a fair bit of walking, without really noticing the exercise, as your attention is taken by all around you.  Mobility is not an issue.  Scooters can be hired from the main desk.

There is also provision for blind visitors, with sculptures designed to be handled, so that the sight impaired know what the primates look like.  As a partially deaf visitor myself, I didn't bother with the talks in the assumption that I wouldn't be able to hear them. But that didn't matter. There's plenty of written information along the way.

Monetization is unassuming and not at all in your face. It costs £11 for an adult and £7.75 for a child (3-15), but there is a range of prices for various concessions too. I honestly thought it cheap for what's on offer inside. 

Otherwise, there's a gift shop and three cafes (as well as a couple of isolated ice cream stands) to spend your money in. All else is free.

The food won't win any gourmet prizes, but there is a variety to suit all tastes and it is well cooked.  Healthy meals sit on the menu alongside snacks. As a vegetarian, I had an option of things to eat, which I'm really not used to in tourist attractions. It took me ages to decide!

A note to my fellow smokers: It's alright. There are two smoking areas, located at opposite ends of the park. No need to rush out after an hour or two.

All told, I thoroughly recommend Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre, as a great day out for all of the family, in south-east Dorset. Enjoy!

Map Showing Monkey World in Dorset

It is located on the A31 between Wool and Bere Regis, in east Dorset.

This is Home

All credit to videomaker Nerrad2009, this is a great tribute to Monkey World.

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Updated: 11/05/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 06/08/2012

It's the dynamics in the troops that really fascinates (and charms) me there. Even more so when you realise that human beings aren't that different. The chimps are just more blatant about things and wear their emotions on their sleeves.

Kate on 06/04/2012

I agree monkey world is a fantastic day out. If you thought you had seen chimps acting naturally before in zoos think again! Go to money world and get ready to fall in love. It's fantastic to see the dynamics and interactions between troop members

JoHarrington on 06/02/2012

I know exactly what you mean. :)

You might get to come to Britain one day and Monkey World will be there waiting for you.

Ragtimelil on 06/02/2012

What a story! I wish I could visit. So glad some people take up the cause, but sad that it has to be done at all.

JoHarrington on 06/02/2012

I'm genuinely shocked by the story of Pony. My imagination was completely pre-empted here.

However, there is no orang-utan called Pony in Monkey World to my knowledge. I'm assuming that she was taken to a sanctuary in Borneo instead. I'm assuming that it was the Orangutan Protection Foundation (http://www.orangutanprotectionfoundat...) as they were the ones to rescue her.

Fred Gwyar on 06/02/2012

wtf....orang-utan and prostitution...I'm confuse...

Edit: google is your friend

OK, now I can honestly say I'm shocked

JoHarrington on 06/02/2012

An orang-utan in prostitution? The mind absolutely boggles. How was that even possible? Beyond even the bestiality factor, how did she not rip their heads off?

It wouldn't surprise me if she ended up at Monkey World, depending on where she was rescued. It's the centre for orang-utan rescue in Europe.

Monkey World is an amazing place to visit! If you want, I could take you there when you come over to Britain. I'll show you my 'son' Bryan. :D

I'm so going to look up the orang-utan story now.

Ember on 06/02/2012

Please excuse me while I make the historian in you a little sad...I never check the dates on anything.

As it turns out, the orangutang was rescued over four years ago. And now I am wishing there had been a follow up story, because I want to hear about her happy ending too.

Ember on 06/02/2012

I wonder if that orangutan they just recently rescued from prostitution will go there. Her story made me sad for humanity :(

Aww, at least Bryan's story had a happier ending. I'm not in the least surprised you've adopted a monkey, that's so adorable. place sounds like a cute place to visit :)

Yay for conservationism! my very first passion (kindled the croc hunter, my cery first hero :p)

JoHarrington on 06/01/2012

He is doing just great, despite the little tantrum that day. He's still a little boy, so it's expected, and Sally was right on the case. :D

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