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Monkey World News

Back in Business

Daily Echo

IT'S little more than a year since we mourned the passing of Jim Cronin, the inspirational founder of Monkey World rescue centre near Wool. Thursday sees the brief return of Monkey Business, the TV programme largely responsible for raising awareness of Jim's work, in the first of two special editions to honour the man, his mission and what he has left behind. Monkey Business: Jim's Legacy (ITV1, 7.30pm) goes right back to the beginnings of Monkey World in 1987 when New Yorker Jim took on a derelict Purbeck pig farm and fought tooth and nail to establish a place in which exploited apes and monkeys from around the world could learn to be themselves again. Next Thursday, May 15, a second programme will look at what Jim Cronin has bequeathed to the public and the future for Monkey World. Meanwhile, on Monday, Five begins a new series of Monkey Life (daily, 6.30pm), narrated by The Royle Family's Ralf Little. Taking time out from organising two more chimp rescues, Jim's wife Alison explains Monkey World's family philosophy that embraces not only the animals that live there and the people directly connected to it around the world, but also the visitors, the wider public and the programme makers. advertisement "They've been part of this place for so long - as we speak, the crew is in the park filming for Monkey Life," she says. "And I was pleased that Chris Searle is back to narrate the Legacy programmes. I've viewed them twice and am so pleased with them. They're different in that they don't follow this little soap opera about the animals, but take a view of Jim's life and work. COUPLE AT WORK: Jim Cronin and Alison COUPLE AT WORK: Jim Cronin and Alison "We treat the animals as individuals and try to give them the family that was stolen from them. Families go on, they don't just stop because one member has gone. So, if anything, that ethos is Jim's legacy." Many questioned the future of Monkey World when Jim was taken so cruelly by cancer last year. At the time, head keeper Jeremy Keeling moved quickly to allay public fears and protect Alison in her profound grief. And yet, recalling those dark days, she reveals with anguished discomfort the possibility of walking away from Monkey World - and from life itself - did briefly occur to her. "Maybe there was a time when Jim was first diagnosed in Australia that I said let's pack the whole thing up, go off travelling somewhere nobody knew us and when the end came I'd end it there too. Jim flipped. He sat me down and read me the Riot Act - he told me Monkey World had to continue, that we owed it to the apes and monkeys and to those that are still to be rescued. "So that straightened me out - that was what Jim wanted. "Now, there are two things I find totally bizarre when I'm asked. Firstly, if the park is going to continue - but life marches on and in some ways that has been my saving grace. "That the apes and monkeys here don't much care if someone is a bit under the weather, or tired, or even no longer here. They are focussed on their everyday issues like the new graduates from the nursery group, or why one infant is getting more attention than they used to, whatever. Maybe some individual apes - Turkish Charlie or Sally in the nursery - may be intelligent and focused enough to know that Jim is not here any more, but they really do have other things to be concerned with. "And the other thing is when people ask why I don't take a holiday. What for? So I can contemplate my navel and get really miserable? No, it's just not me." Typically direct, Alison appears to baulk when I suggest going back to Monkey World must have been difficult, ("That's some understatement," she chokes), but perhaps recognising the genuine awkwardness acknowledges that, generally, people just don't know what to say. "They do ask how I'm doing and I usually say I'm bearing up or whatever, but now and then I'll just say Bloody awful' because that's the truth and if you're gonna ask you've got to deal with the answer. "Some ask because they really do care, but it's usually because they feel uncomfortable - and I understand that. Unless you've suffered a loss like that you can't have any understanding of it and everyone deals with it in a different way." Pausing to release a swift that has flown into her wood cabin office at Monkey World, we talk about the nature of the park, about how visitors can allow time to slip away just watching the animals. It's a measure of its absolute success that for all the calls and hooting, it's a place of peace where people can connect with themselves as well as the animals. But running it is a completely different story. "Oh, the park is overwhelming, but that's been good," she says. "People say I work too hard and bury my head in the sand but having this work - whether it be in the park, planning the rehabilitation of the apes and monkeys or organising rescues - has been the best thing I could have. "You say Jim is always here and I'd like to think he is still aware of what is going on, but I should imagine that would be extremely frustrating for all concerned! "I don't have a great belief in any kind of afterlife or faith, but then I have no strong feelings against them either. "What remains is what Jim built and the mission to continue. The individual apes and monkeys that are here are what is important and the mission to rescue more and more to end the exploitation and smuggling." Alison Cronin's tenacity, dedication and sheer belief is impressive enough to anyone who has followed programmes like Monkey World and Monkey Life, but while that fame (if that's what it is) is an inevitable by-product of the TV shows, it's only part of the picture. "Jim always said he could convince anyone of the mission if he was given five minutes - and he was right, I've seen him do it, there's no denying what we do here. "I shouldn't necessarily include him in this, but Jeremy and I are far less gregarious than Jim and lead very private, quiet, sad lives away from Monkey World. I do find it strange being recognised in the street, but if people do come up it's actually the work they are interested in. They ask about Sally in the nursery or Seamus, or Brian, or whatever." Future plans include the extension of an ape complex by the climbing frames at the end of the park so that children can climb and play alongside orang utans; more sculptures of ape and monkey heads so that the visually-impaired can feel involved in the park; and more free scooters for less-abled patrons to make their way around. "You know, children often understand Monkey World far better than adults who think their emotions and feelings are unique to humans. Children will accept and understand far more easily why the apes and monkeys behave as they do. "I've had teachers tell me they have seen the less obviously active members of a class come out of themselves when they get in the play areas and mimic the behaviour of the animals because they find it easier to do that than compete with the other members of the class." Watching previously unrelated, rescued chimps and orang utans live in viable social groups is a privilege and it's right on our doorstep. Maybe, just maybe, a part of Jim Cronin's legacy is that Monkey World teaches us there is no such thing as a perfect family unit. There are only families that work and those that don't. "We have been accused of arrogance in not preparing the apes and monkeys for reintroduction to the wild, but while we've looked at that, it's missing the point," says Alison. "What we are not doing is playing computer dating with apes and monkeys to engineer maximum genetic variability in the wild. We don't treat the animals as numbers, but as individuals. If one was adopted and introduced to a family group, we're not about to send them halfway round the world because they are genetically more suited to someone else. "Monkey World is not about performing animals and entertainment. No zoo would keep 60-plus chimps and feed and equip them because it is not commercially viable, but that's our thinking and our focus - and that is Jim."

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