Charles Darwin is best known for his contributions to the theory of evolution. With any luck the human species is still evolving because we’ve got this bad habit. Somewhere along the line we started picking flowers for personal pleasure. It didn’t matter that flowers live longer unpicked. When we see something beautiful, we tend to grab it with our highly-functional hands, beat proudly at our chest, and claim it as our own … despite the consequences.
It was two years ago a cute little monkey in a sheepskin coat got lost at IKEA. You can hardly blame him – you need a map to negotiate your way through that store. But Darwin didn’t make it much further than the entrance before the crowds formed and Animal Control stepped in.
After close to two years battling it out in the courts, Darwin became the property of Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary.
While the folks at Story Book were victorious, they were far from celebratory. Throughout the ordeal, they suffered physical threats, break-in attempts and plenty of mud-slinging from a radical group of advocates for keeping monkeys as pets. (Just a reminder … we’re still evolving.)
Sadly, little has changed in the five years since I first visited Story Book. Exotic pet laws are still in dire need of strengthening. While some provinces have passed laws prohibiting certain exotic animals, Ontario places that responsibility on municipalities – people who want to own an exotic pet need only live outside the limits of any given municipality to do so. The fact Sherri Delaney, founder of Story Book, can buy Monkey Chow from her local feed store is proof that monkeys as pets are not so exotic anymore.
As pets, primates become lost between two worlds, unable to fit in either. Monkeys need to be with other monkeys to thrive. As a monkey matures in isolation, frustration builds when it reaches mating age, and can lead to aggression.
In roadside zoos monkeys are often the main attraction, living out their lives in the confines of small cages for our viewing pleasure. Monkeys need daily mental stimulation as well as physical exercise but usually get neither at these primate peep shows.
The use of monkeys in research labs is ongoing too. Even though plant-based testing is proving to be a viable alternative, it costs money to transition to a more ethical business practice.
For the last 15 years, Story Book has done its best to serve 20-plus monkeys with heartbreaking stories at any given time. Boo, one of two retired research lab Rhesus macaques, is never without her beloved stuffed doggy toy. Pablo the marmoset had eye surgery recently and although he’s got quite a shiner, his rescuers are hoping the eye can be saved. Rudy the squirrel monkey has made a full recovery after being rescued along with a hawk, alligator and several Bengal cats from an abandoned storage unit. Chico, a Capuchin monkey, is having an ongoing love affair with his mirror while his aptly named buddy, Pockets Warhol, has become famous for his paintings. In fact, famous primatologist Jane Goodall is the proud owner of one of his masterpieces!
When it comes to Darwin, he prefers to rip up cardboard followed by a joyous swing on his fire hose and a hearty game of peek-a-boo. I barely caught a glimpse of him on my visit – he’s that good at peek-a-boo.
The sanctuary may not be as snazzy as the Toronto Zoo but, much to my surprise, the zoo doesn’t take in rescued exotic animals. Once again, I’m shining the light on the little guy behind the scenes. But with your help, this little guy is about to get BIG.
A perfect property just south of Sunderland has come on the market. With 50 acres of wide-open spaces and forest enclosures, it’s the ideal Canadian version of a jungle! The property was used as a zoo and comes fully equipped with professionally-built enclosures. In fact, it’s still home to 20 monkeys, two senior lions, an old timber wolf, and a bear rescued by the Ministry of Resources after losing a paw. The folks at Story Book are prepared to take over the care of the senior residents. It’s a golden opportunity to not only expand as a rescue but to establish an education centre. The possibilities are endless.
Story Book needs to raise $500,000 to purchase Darwin’s dream property. With our support, Darwin’s fire hose can be replaced with tree branches. Impossible? I don’t think so.
As for you and me, we’ve reached a fork in the evolutionary road. If enough of us choose to head in the right direction, where wild flowers grow undisturbed and monkeys swing on tree branches, the rest of us are sure to follow. Just ask the residents at Story Book Farm. They call it monkey see, monkey do!
Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary is in Sunderland, Ontario (storybookmonkeys.org, 705-357-3961). Let’s get down to monkey business and help make that dream come true!