Nestled in the Dorset countryside is Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre. We spoke to Charlie Crowther about the important work the centre does for primates
What does Monkey World do?
Monkey World is an internationally acclaimed rescue centre, established in 1987. Since then it has grown to home over 250 primates of more than 20 different species, many of whom were neglected, kept in unsuitable conditions or experienced cruelty. Monkey World works tirelessly with many governments worldwide to stop the illegal smuggling of apes and monkeys for the tourist and entertainment industry and illegal pet trade. Monkey World now plays an important role in the conservation of endangered primates. Visitors to the 65-acre park can see orangutans and chimpanzees (to name but a few) living in natural family groups, in a safe and stimulating environment.
What are the origins of Monkey World?
The park was set up by New Yorker Jim Cronin to provide a permanent, stable home for chimpanzees who were victims of the Spanish beach photography trade. Jim witnessed the abuse suffered by these chimpanzees — families hunted and killed in African forests; surviving babies smuggled from the wild and transported illegally into Europe for a lonely and abusive life. This experience spurred him to set up his own rescue centre, which he started with a small financial loan and a long lease on a derelict pig farm in Dorset.
The work of Monkey World was becoming increasingly well known and respected when Alison first visited the park in 1992. Originally from California, she had two degrees in biological anthropology from Cambridge, was completing a PhD in animal behaviour, and was also rescuing and rehabilitating wild animals — not primates but bears! Alison and Jim first met at the park to discuss electric fence designs. The couple married in 1996 and Alison became scientific director of Monkey World. Jim Cronin sadly passed away in 2007 following a short battle with cancer, but the rescue work continues through Dr Alison Cronin, Jeremy Keeling and the Monkey World team.
Is there a particular ape or rescue story that stands out for you?
The story that has resonated strongly with our visitors and viewers of the TV programme Monkey Life was that of Charlie. He was a chimpanzee who was abused as a beach photographer’s prop and was probably the worst case of abuse we’d ever seen. He was beaten, had broken bones and was addicted to Valium. But the psychological scars were worst, and it took him a long time to settle into life at Monkey World. However, he always remained a gentle, kind soul and was a favourite of both Jim Cronin and Jeremy. Indeed, after Jim passed, there was a sculpture erected in the park of Jim and Charlie, which was a fitting tribute.