I don’t actually own three monkeys. I sponsor them at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, just north of Gainesville. It all started in 1998 when I visited the sanctuary and met Kari Bagnall, the founder. She’d opened Jungle Friends a year earlier after a successful career as a decorator in Las Vegas. She brought 13 rescued monkeys with her to central Florida and intended to to devote her life to primate rescue.
Two weeks before I met my first monkey, Cappy—a capuchin in his thirties—Kari found him an outdoor crate near Las Vegas, where he’d been exposed to all weather. He was near death. Formerly, he’d been the long-time pet of an elderly woman who had been put in a nursing home. Cappy was lucky to survive the plane trip to Florida.
The day I met Cappy, he screamed with delight as I approached his mesh enclosure. Perhaps I reminded him of his former owner. He extended his little hand toward me through the wire, wanting to touch me. I was smitten. Our friendship grew over the years. As soon as Cappy spotted me crossing the property and walking toward his habitat, he began making happy cries and reaching through the mesh. While I always brought his favorite treats, his first priority was our greeting ritual. Only when he settled down to soft, sweet “woo-woo” sounds would he accept the grapes, bananas, or peanuts I brought.
Cappy was later joined by Puchi, another capuchin. Puchi had been picked up by police on a freeway outside Chicago—badly burned and in need of medical care. Apparently he’d escaped from a residential fire. Unable to locate his owners, wildlife authorities made arrangements for his transfer to Jungle Friends in Florida. When I met Puchi, he was pretty banged up. Besides his other problems, he had an infected eye that eventually had to be removed.
Cappy and Puchi were a good match. Cappy, the big brother, doted on Puchi—grooming him so much that most of the hair not burned off in the fire was plucked off. Cappy taught Puchi to treat me like a VIP, so now I had two monkeys greeting me with joyful screams. Because I worried that Puchi’s disfigurement might discourage other sponsors, he became my second adopted monkey.
A year later Cappy and Puchi welcomed a third capuchin, Lucy. Suffering from advanced cancer, Lucy was frail and very sick. But at Cappy’s side, she glowed with pleasure as he groomed her, picking through her hair for whatever it is monkeys find there. Now I had Lucy to consider, too. Who is going to sponsor a monkey dying of cancer? I decided it would be me.
One morning after the trio had been together for several months, Kari called me with a heavy voice. Lucy had a seizure, she said, and died suddenly. Not only that—Cappy died about an hour later of a heart attack. The stress of Lucy’s last throes must have been fatal for him. I was prepared for Lucy’s death but not Cappy’s. I went through my days stunned for a long time.
The deaths of Cappy and Lucy were much harder for Puchi, who’d lost his monkey family in the space of a few hours. During the weeks of finding himself alone, Puchi poked around his habitat listlessly. The Jungle Friends staff went out of their way to cheer him up and I visited more often, bringing his favorite treats. Puchi’s spirits remained low until Kari placed him with two other capuchins—Chi-Chi, a former circus monkey, and Wendell, a refugee from a sanctuary unable to treat his severe medical problems. Currently all three monkeys, in their thirties, live together happily and in good health.
Becoming a sponsor has allowed me to make friends with monkeys without owning them as pets—a move that almost always ends in tragedy. Visiting Cappy, Puchi and Lucy and following their lives, they became part of mine. Every time I visit the sanctuary, I walk around the beautiful habitats that house more than one hundred healthy, happy capuchins and other monkey species. They scamper through trees and shrubs, swing on ropes, and run through overhead passages from one habitat to the other. These happy monkeys once led miserable lives of confinement and ill treatment as circus performers, breeding stock for exotic pet traders, laboratory subjects, and pets of disenchanted owners.
Monkey sponsorship costs as little as ten dollars a month. Information about how to join the Jungle Friends community of sponsors is available at http://www.junglefriends.org.