A Ring-Tailed Lemur from Madagascar eyes a Brown Capuchin monkey as it sneaks over to grab a nut and then rushes by to hide behind a tree. A Black and White Ruffed Lemur casually sits on a table of fruit next to a Bolivian Squirrel Monkey. Three different primate calls ring through the forest as monkeys from across the globe all live together in Monkeyland in the Garden Route of South Africa.
It’s a great tourist’s destination and safe haven for abandoned monkeys, but it’s also an interesting social experiment on how monkeys are able to adapt to their surroundings. Around 500 individuals divided into eleven different species live together in a free roaming sanctuary. They share food, habitat, space, and even sometimes mates. They come from different countries all over the world where they have different climates, habitats, and levels of human interaction. And yet, they seem to live together peacefully, if not unassuming of each other.
Four of the species come from South America, one from Central America, two from Madagascar, two from Africa, one from India, one from Indonesia, and one from Malaysia. Home habitats include lowland forests, rainforests, bush savanna, and urban human populated landscapes. Some of the monkeys were abandoned as pets and others come from overcrowded zoos. A family of Ringtail Lemurs came from a zoo in Sweden, completely different from their Madagascar home. And yet they all adapt to the Mediterranean Maritime climate of the Garden Route.
The adaptability is not all natural. The primates must first go through quarantine before they are allowed to roam free in the utopia. Quarantine is a large cage on the edge of the forest where the newcomer can get used to the climate, forest, sounds and smells of other monkeys. Practiced keepers study the monkey’s behavior every day until they deem that the animal is fit and comfortable to be released. The process can last three to six months depending on the individual although some monkeys may be put back in quarantine if they get sick or are too aggressive.
There’s also the special care unit where primates who are too old, handicapped, or crazy live permanently. Some species require permanent cage residency like the Owl Monkey and the Bush Baby because they are nocturnal, too small, or too elusive to live in the free roaming area. The Common Squirrel Monkey and the Bolivian Squirrel Monkey are too closely related which could mean interbreeding, so they are housed separately as well.
All the other species can be found swinging from the trees, grabbing fruits and nuts, and sometimes stealing tourist’s belongings along the Monkeyland path. They are mostly aggressive amongst their own species. Even during mating season, the monkeys only get territorial with their own breeds. The monkeys in Monkeyland have gotten so used to having other breeds that they mostly ignore the breed that’s from halfway across the world sitting in the tree next to them.
There is also a mix of breeds that are classified as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN list with breeds that are vanishing. The Black and White Ruffed Lemur is classified as ‘critically endangered’ which is just one step away from ‘extinct in the wild’. They have been poached for their fur in Madagascar and now they are having trouble recovering. The Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey is ‘endangered’ because of the deforestation in Nicaragua. The Lar Gibbon from Indonesia and the Spectacled Langur from Malaysia are ‘endangered’ and ‘near threatened’ due to hunting for food and the pet trade. Although the species’ homelands are very different, they all have habitat loss and decreasing numbers in common.
Monkeyland has decided that in order to save many species and individual monkeys, they must let them live together as one. Though a Hanuman Langur from Bangladesh would never meet a Black Howler Monkey from Brazil naturally, in Monkeyland, worlds collide.
(Photo by Makayla McGarvey)