During the Florida stop of our Fight or Flight Tour, we had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day volunteering at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctaury and meeting all of the monkeys who call it home. Jungle Friends is a sanctuary for monkeys who’ve been rescued from laboratories and the exotic pet trade and entertainment industries, but who are now getting to live the rest of their lives being cared for—able to play and touch grass, bonding with other monkeys, and learning that humans can sometimes offer compassion rather than abuse.
When we arrived, we got to take a tour to meet many of the monkeys. One of the first monkeys we met is named Frankie. He ran over to the side of his plant-filled enclosure to see who we were. After looking us over, he began to show off; he climbed up and down the wall of his enclosure, swung around with ease and grace, and then decided to earn some additional attention by flirting with us. This flirting included raising his eyebrows at us and repeatedly laying down in a lounging pose. When we had to walk away, he made excited chirping sounds, begging us to stay and watch more of his performance.
The caregiver taking us on the tour then led us through meeting many other monkeys—including spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchins, marmosets, and tamarins. She told us their stories that broke our hearts. Some are of the rescued monkeys are former “pets” who were kept locked away in basements; others spent years in laboratories and still don’t understand that the humans they meet now aren’t going to hurt them. Some were missing legs and tails that had to be removed because the monkeys engaged in self-mutilation as they went crazy in their former captivity. The stories hurt to even hear and we couldn’t even imagine the years of suffering that many of the monkeys have experienced—or how it must feel to now have a home that lets them breathe fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun.
Three tufted capuchin monkeys named Alex, Jake, and Gizmo became Jungle Friends’ newest residents the day we arrived. They were rescued from Wooster College after 30 years of living in a lab thanks to the amazing work of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, who also donated a new enclosure to the sanctuary. Because of SAEN’s work, Wooster College is ending all of their primate research, and these three monkeys now have a caring home.
After the tour, we got to work volunteering—cleaning food bowls, preparing the next day’s meals, weeding, planting, and cleaning out enclosures. As we worked, we could hear the chirps and calls of monkeys around us. At one moment, I had to just stop and listen. Happy monkey sounds. I thought back to the monkeys we saw the week before, in rows of cages at Covance’s primate quarantine facility—the monkeys we could hear screaming. The sounds we heard at Jungle Friends were drastically different from the distress we heard that day, and I desperately hoped that someday the monkeys at Covance will find sanctuary and have reason to make happy sounds again—or for the first time in their lives.
As much as Jungle Friends truly is a sanctuary to the monkeys—giving them a chance to experience life outside of a nightmare—we couldn’t help but think that the enclosures in which the monkeys now live are still cages. The impact of exploiting animals is forever in their lives. Even when rescued from behind the bars of laboratory cages or out of dark basements, the monkeys cannot be released into the wild in which they were meant to live. They will live the rest of their lives dependent upon the kindness of humans rather than ever embracing what freedom is supposed to mean. The enclosures in which the monkeys live are a symbol of their escape from torture, but also a reminder of the need for the complete liberation of animals—the day when there will be no need for sanctuaries because there are no institutions of exploitation to either scar them or save them from.
Please support Jungle Friends in the great work they are doing to show monkeys compassion and love, as well as earth and sky. As long as monkeys and other animals are exploited, we need sanctuaries where they can find peace, as well as hope for the day when no animal has to know what it means to be in a cage.
*Photos courtesy of Jungle Friends
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