Today was one of our days off from ‘cheetah duty’ and that meant we could go for an outing! We asked our hostess if she could take us to the monkey sanctuary and it worked out well because the other volunteer wanted to go to a nearby elephant sanctuary. We decided to skip out on the elephant sanctuary since we had already planned two elephant related outings during our Garden Route road trip.
Bush Baby Monkey Sanctuary (http://www.monkeysanctuary.co.za/home.html) is a huge sanctuary that is home to a variety of primates that were once pets, orphans or rescued in some way. I was excited to see these animals in a ‘natural’ environment (natural being a relative term – so in this instance meaning not in a tiny cage) and the opportunity to get some photos.
The facility was set up so that you would enter the area as a group and follow a tour guide through. When we arrived we had just missed a tour so we had to wait until the next one (they ran every hour). We were hopeful that it would just be the three of us for the tour, but in the last ten minutes of waiting a big group showed up, and our number was closer to 20. We were greeted by our tour guide, Simba, which I am fairly certain was a name he adopted because his real name is probably hard to pronounce, and likely the visitors love that he shares a name with a disney character who also happens to be from Africa. We went over some important rules, most important was the fact that we were going to be amongst the primates and there were some that would most certainly come up to us and try to steal our belongings (especially phones, cameras, sunglasses and keys). The guide stressed that it would be best to leave any and all bags, purses and valuables behind in the lockers. Most of us did, but of course you get those tourists. You know the ones. They are smug, reckless and just plain daft at times. On our tour they came in the form of a family from Texas. The older couple had a pair of fanny packs (yes fanny packs people, and not fun, retro ones) that they refused to leave behind. The guide said it would be fine as long as they held onto them and didn’t let the monkeys open them. And with that we started the tour.
This was the mischievous devil that greeted us. A notorious capuchin named Api (spelling?) who immediately trundled through our large group looking for bags and reaching into people’s pockets. Jessi insisted on bringing her purse but she was good about making sure they never got in. The same could not be said for our Texan friends. Well immediately Api jumped onto the man’s gut and started to undo the zipper of his fanny pack. The guide came running over to get Api off as the man clearly had no intention of doing it himself. Then Api went off for a couple seconds before coming back to the man’s wife, who seemed a bit frightened to have the monkey so close (umm duh, were you there for the debrief?!). Api jumped onto her and started undoing her fanny pack and once more she did nothing to stop him. He was there for a good minute rifling through her things before deciding he had found something good and shot away with a baggie when Simba came over to remove him. The couple seemed thoroughly amused, however I was not.
It turned out that this baggie was full of tea bags and sugar packets (WHY ARE THESE IN YOUR FANNY AND WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST LEAVE IT BEHIND?!) which Api promptly set to work on. He ripped open the tea bags and decided they weren’t edible. He then dove into the sugar packets with newfound enthusiasm. He poured the refined sugar into his mouth and once he had got through what looked like a total of 6 packets, promptly set to work licking the sugar from his hands.
Sometimes people just…ugh. So we continued on our journey through the sanctuary. Unfortunately due to the large size of our group it was difficult at times to hear Simba and also to get in line for a good photo. The great thing about this place is how giant it is. Honestly, I felt like i was walking through an enormous rainforest and apart from where we entered I couldn’t see any fences. That is pretty big considering there were several times when the walkway opened up onto an enormous gorge with huge rocky cliffs overlooking the forest.
Our larger than life comrades from the US of A were struggling a bit with the stairs and amount of walking (we were walking almost non-stop for the full hour) so I would suggest to others that if you are mobility challenged or very out of shape, this may be difficult to get through.
Just before our trek over a long bridge, our little buddy Api returned once more, accosting Jessi who fended him off valiantly, and I stopped for a moment beside him, when he decided to climb onto my shoulders and catch a ride with the group!
I love animals, as everyone knows, but I have some boundaries. For one thing, having animals near my face generally makes me uncomfortable. While Api was not in my face, I could feel his tight grip on my hair and for fear of enraging the little guy, I walked around awkwardly and with a general look of concern (it took a lot of effort for Dan to get a shot where I didn’t look ridiculous). After around 5 minutes Api decided he had enough and scampered off. On our walk we also saw some adorable lemurs (one of my favourite animals).
There were definitely a lot of instances of people physically reaching out to touch the animals (which was another rule breaking moment) but perhaps the worst of all was near the very end. By this point, the three of us were at the very end of the line because we had been stopping to take pictures, especially when Api was camped on my head. We hadn’t heard much of what Simba was saying, but we did hear that we were nearing a spider monkey that was an ex-pet. I was excited to get a shot because she was sitting perfectly on the rail and in great lighting conditions.
Unfortunately however, someone else from our group just ahead of us went up to her and PICKED HER UP, that’s right, not even a pet, just swooped in and picked her right up in the same way you scoop up a toddler. I guess Simba had said something about how she loved to get hugs (but not as an invitation for people to do so). That not only prevented me from getting my photo but also meant that she was being carried with us as we were ending our journey. Well this created an issue because Api had returned and was very jealous. He immediately rushed at the spider monkey in an aggressive outburst for stealing our attention, and it became a brawl. The person holding the spider monkey was not helping situations, as she was trying to fend off Api. Finally, the spider monkey got away and ran off, but by this time all of the capuchin troops had been rallied and were running up to the poor spider monkey and grabbing / smacking it. It was pretty heartbreaking that the stupid person in front of us had caused all of that. It made me feel a bit guilty for being so ready to allow Api onto my head and getting all of the photos of the momentous occasion.
Overall, I really enjoyed the sanctuary. The downside was of course the actions of our fellow group mates and the sheer size of the groups. But I enjoyed the amazing animals we were fortunate enough to see and the size and beauty of the site.
Oh and for those who were wondering, we didn’t see any bush babies, which I was pretty disappointed about…