A stroll through the Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary is almost like stepping into a fun, playful and imaginative world. From the harsh Haartbeespoort heat, you enter a tropical world with bristling branches and the sound of mischievous exotic primates.
Chico, the first to step out and say hello, is a tiny, fiery little Capuchin monkey who wanders around the seven hectare cage. Then leaves fall to the ground and as you look up to see where they came from, a Spider monkey is seen rummaging about in the tree tops. Her name is Sarah and she only makes her way down when she spots Craig Sanders, the owner of the sanctuary. Sarah quickly makes her way to the top of his head, where she starts checking his hair for fleas and then reaches for his pockets to see if there’s anything interesting she can find. As the walk carries on, numerous species creep out of the trees to gaze at the guests, there to observe them in their natural habitat.
Overall there are 75 monkeys which are being rehabilitated and given a chance to experience life in the wild. The sanctuary tries to simulate their natural environments, so as to wean them off of their interaction with humans. Most had been kept as pets and have spent most of their lives wearing nappies and playing with children’s toys.
Due to their popularity, exotic monkeys from regions such as Brazil and Madagascar seem to be a growing commodity in South Africa, where they are not protected by the country’s legislation. With that there has been an emergence of breeders solely dedicated to the trade. “People do not breed monkeys because they like them, it’s done for financial returns,” says Sanders who started the establishment in 2009 with the hope of de-humanising the primates, some of which had been abused or abandoned.
Although his sanctuary runs on money made from its daily tours, they don’t allow people to go up to the monkeys even though the creatures often break that rule and approach people to pinch something they find interesting or to pose for pictures.