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Monkey World News

Jim Cronin

Times On-line

At his wildlife park in Dorset, Monkey World, Jim Cronin created a sanctuary for mistreated primates from around the world. A self-trained and forceful New Yorker, Cronin used his flair for publicity to draw down international outrage upon the exploitation and illegal smuggling of endangered species. He set up Monkey World on an abandoned pig farm in 1987 after hearing of a group of baby chimps from Spain, which had been used as props, drugged and dressed up, by photographers on tourist beaches. Cronin persuaded the Spanish authorities to seize the animals by undertaking to give them a refuge. Cronin went on to lead many other daring and high-profile campaigns. In 1998 he was called in when police seized a chimp beaten and kicked by the trainer Mary Chipperfield, who was later found guilty of animal cruelty. The same year, after posing as potential buyers, Cronin and his wife, Alison, took part in a dramatic rescue of baby chimps from an Istanbul market and pet shop, in the face of death threats from the smugglers. The publicity attracted by such rescues won Cronin’s cause wide public backing. Two years ago Cronin collected 55,000 signatures against the illegal trade in primates, and in 2003 Tony Blair backed his campaign against wildlife smuggling in Thailand after hearing, at Prime Minister’s Question Time, of the plight of a performing Bangkok chimp. Cronin spread his message worldwide through his TV programme Monkey Business. Broadcast globally on Discovery’s Animal Planet, it led some to compare him to Steve Irwin, the Australian naturalist and presenter who died last year. He made some powerful converts. In 1999 the Crown Prince of Dubai saw Cronin on television, invited him to visit the emirate and gave him a daughter’s misbehaving and unhappy pet chimp to take back to Dorset. Cronin was insistent that primates could never be domesticated or humanely trained, and should never be kept as domestic pets. He spoke out consistently against the use of apes in TV and film, most famously criticising the long-running campaign for PG Tips, which ended in 2002. “The adverts have been damaging to chimpanzees. It is great if they are going. They made it acceptable to use chimps for entertainment,” he said. He won widespread praise from conservationists who, despite some disagreements, hailed the lengths to which he was willing to go to help animals in trouble, and his readiness to house animals too disturbed to go elsewhere. James Michael Cronin was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1951, son of a union official. After high school he drifted around the US before getting a job as a keeper at Bronx Zoo in the late 1970s. He quickly discovered a passion for animals, and in 1980 he moved to work at John Aspinall’s zoo in Kent. In 1987 he took out a government loan to lease a 65-acre site near Wool, Dorset, filling it it with climbing structures designed to mimic a natural environment. Monkey World grew quickly from the original nine Spanish chimps. The park now shelters more than 150 animals from 14 countries, and leads the world in integrating lone chimps into groups. Many were captured young by smugglers, who would kill the mothers to get hold of baby chimps, which are easier to train and to smuggle around the world. The Cronins have rescued apes forced to smoke cigars in a Turkish sitcom, or to kick-box to the death in Thailand, as well as those kept as pets. Alison, an American biological anthropologist with a PhD from Cambridge, arrived at Monkey World in 1993 to discuss fencing. They married soon afterwards and proved to be a formidable team, with Cronin’s practical skills complementing his wife’s academic expertise. They were both appointed MBE last year. She survives him, with the daughter of his first marriage. Jim Cronin, MBE, campaigner for primates, was born on November 15, 1951. He died of liver cancer on March 17, 2007, aged 55

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