My Friend Kari

Kari Bagnall began her whirlwind career as a primary sanctuary director when she opened Jungle Friends on 12 acres of land north of Gainesville, Florida, in 1999. Until her early forties, she was a successful interior designer in Las Vegas.

Kari’s love of monkeys began when her live-in boyfriend brought home a baby capuchin in 1993. Kari took little Samantha everywhere with her.  Unfortunately, her enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the managers of the grocery stores, movie theatres, and shops she visited. Before long, she was no longer welcome at their places of business.  With Samantha riding on her shoulder, Kari was also escorted out of the design showrooms where she made a living.

Putting one misguided foot in front of the other, Kari tried to solve the problem by getting a baby sister for Samantha. Charlotte only doubled Kari’s problems.

Kari turned her home upside down for the girls.  She installed monkey-friendly landscaping, including misting devices and an elephant fountain.  Indoors she built runways near the ceilings that extended into the yard. The monkeys’ room had a TV, rainforest wallpaper, matching curtains, and a four-poster bed draped with mosquito netting.

First, Samantha threw the TV across the room.  Then Charlotte tore down the wallpaper.  Together they ripped up the curtains, dismantled the bed, and nearly hung themselves on the mosquito netting. Outdoors they stuffed pebbles in the elephant’s trunk, blocking the fountain.  They also attacked Kari’s guests, requiring trips to the emergency room for monkey bites.

The result was that Kari gave up her lucrative career as a designer and bought land in Florida where the climate was better for monkeys. On rural acreage, she built spacious, escape-proof habitats, installed water and electric lines, and repaired an old house that came with the land.  That’s where she lived. By the time Kari opened the gates of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, she was almost broke.

Samantha, Charlotte and eleven other monkeys were the first residents at the sanctuary. As the word spread, more monkeys came and more construction was needed.  Within 10 years, Jungle Friends housed 120 capuchins, spider monkeys, marmosets, tamarinds, and squirrel monkeys. They came from unhappy lives in research laboratories, pet stores, and the entertainment industry. Many were brought to Kari by disenchanted owners who learned from painful experience that monkeys were born to be wild.

Now in her fifties, Kari works 16-hour days tending her huge complex and raising money to stay afloat.  Each morning, she and her volunteer staff chop fresh fruits and vegetables into bite-sized pieces and fill each of 120 personal bowls for the monkeys.  Food processors won’t do because they turn the food to mush, and monkeys like to inspect each morsel they eat.  Kari maintains a sanctuary clinic where she cares for sick monkeys. Sometimes she drives them to the University of Florida vet school. After sundown, she works on the Jungle Friends website, plans fund-raising projects, and corresponds with monkey sponsors.

For Kari Bagnall, nothing is impossible.  Once affluent, she now lives on a poverty-level income.  She is buoyant, beautiful, charismatic, and has a heart of gold.

Hats off to you, Kari.

To learn more about Jungle Friends, go to

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