Animal Magic

07Oct13

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I saw an amazing thing on Saturday. Our friend Dr Alison Cronin, who runs Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset, gave Julie and I a private tour of the park. It was early in the morning, before they opened the gates to the public. As we walked past one of the enclosures, one of the chimpanzees noticed Alison was holding a cup of coffee. He made it obvious that he wanted some.

Alison climbed over the wooden rail that separates the pathway from the enclosure’s wire mesh fence and tried to give him a sip. It didn’t work; the cup was too big to fit through the gaps in the fence. I still can’t believe what happened next. The chimp picked up a stick, broke it in half and passed it to Alison through the wire mesh. Alison dipped it in her coffee cup and handed it back to him. He licked the coffee off the stick then handed it back to her for a re-fill. Later Alison told me that he’s never done that before. It’s not learned behavior or something he was trained to do, it was just an example of how good chimpanzees are at solving problems.

Monkey World was originally intended to give a home to abused chimps that had been used as props by Spanish beach photographers. Now its home to more than 250 primates from nineteen different species. It was set up in 1987 by Alison’s husband, Jim Cronin. Jim and Alison ran the park together until Jim’s death in 2007.

I first met Jim and Alison in 1997. I was presenting the breakfast show on the local radio station, 2CR FM. The radio station had “adopted” a rescued chimpanzee called Charlie. Jim and Alison were regular guests on the program. Up until I met them, I knew absolutely nothing about the world of primate care and the rescue of exotic and endangered animals.

One day we did an outside broadcast live from Monkey World to celebrate Charlie’s birthday. I was chatting to Jim on the air and he was telling me how Monkey World works with foreign governments to stop the illegal smuggling of wild primates and how they’d rescued so many that they needed more facilities. Then he produced blueprints for a state-of-the art primate building and said “Charlie needs a new house!” He went on to explain that they didn’t have the budget for all of the materials and the labour needed to complete the project. He asked if we could help. Jim was a difficult man to say ‘no’ to, especially when he was live on the air, looking you in the eye, tilting his head and smiling.

Over the next few months we appealed on the air to local suppliers and tradesmen. We had a good relationship with a lot of them because they advertised on our radio station. The local community pitched in and listeners even gave up their free time to work on the site. Eventually Charlie’s House was built. It’s still there today, now re-named “Hananya’s House”. Hananya is the current dominant male in a group of nineteen rescued adult chimps and two three-week old twins that live there.

Looking back now, I can see what Jim did. The radio station had a strong bond with the local community and also lots of advertisers who just happened to be in the business of providing most of the products and services he needed to get the job done. I think Jim also worked out that as there was a tremendous amount of local pride in the work that Monkey World do, that I’d want to be associated with them.

Jim just passed a stick to me through the wire mesh fence that separated our two worlds and asked me to dip it in my coffee.

Craic on!

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