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Monkey World News

Jim and Alison Cronin criss-cross the globe rescuing animals and taking them to Dorset. Jane warren

The Express


CHARLIE WILL never recover physically. He took too many beatings. His jaw was smashed by the fist of his ruthless owner and he cannot see properly after another vicious thrashing damaged his eyes. And the tourists who paid to be photographed with him on a beach in Southern Spain probably didn't realise the little chimp posing so obligingly had been force-fed Valium.

Charlie's life as a beach photographer's prop was bleak, his future even bleaker until Jim Cronin picked up his malnourished little frame and transported him to another life.

One where Charlie was gently fed, healed and nurtured with other apes recovering from miserable lives in captivity.

For Jim and his wife Dr Alison Cronin Charlie's story is all too familiar. Between them they run Monkey World, a 67acre ape sanctuary in Dorset. Here they co-ordinate rescue missions to save suffering primates and then work to give the animals a safe and happy life in a natural environment.

Every new addition to the Monkey World "family" trails a shocking story. Carli is now allowed to live like a chimp but once he was forced to perform in a Turkish sitcom, smoking a cigar or sitting on a toilet "reading" a newspaper. He was born into captivity and immediately orphaned; the only way for his owners in the entertainment business to ensure they could train him for profit. The Cronins persuaded his owner to retire Carli to Monkey World but not before his sitcom spawned a craze for monkeys as pets in Turkey.

The only way for black-market traders to get a baby chimp is to shoot the mother and other family members who try to protect the newborn. Then the terrified baby is shoved into a basket and on to a boat for sale to the highest bidder.

It is this trade that the Cronins campaign to abolish. But the cruelty suffered by some residents is not always deliberate. Six-year-old Honey lived in a palace in Dubai after the Crown Prince rescued the illegal pet from a wayward subject. Honey became his daughter's pet, with a wardrobe full of the latest fashions and two Filipino nannies.

But as she grew, Honey became a handful and when her natural instincts were frustrated she would nip her nurses.

Fortunately, the princess saw a documentary about the work of Monkey World and her tutor was dispatched to make the international call. So in July 1999 the Cronins found themselves travelling first class to the Middle East as guests of the Crown Prince of Dubai.

Great diplomacy was called for - the Crown Prince was distressed that Honey was going in the cargo hold. "I think they had imagined her travelling first class, " says Jim with a smile. The Cronins kept two frocks for posterity but now the chimp swings about in the outfit nature intended - her birthday suit - among a group of chimps in one of Monkey World's vast grassy enclosures full of ropes and swings.

"We don't build deprivation tanks, " says Jim. "Instead, we imagine ourselves into the lives of the inhabitants like Honey, who is now leading a very happy, natural life."

Jim, a New Yorker who'd been a zoo keeper in the US, came to the UK in 1980. A protege of wildlife expert John Aspinall, he set up a primate breeding programme at Aspinall's animal park Howletts. Seven years later he was ready to conceive his own project: rescuing the abused victims of the Spanish beach photography trade. He bought a plot of land in Dorset and won planning permission to build his first enclosure. With the help of the Templars, an expatriate British couple, he was able to save nine chimps at the first attempt. "Soon we had 34 and things just steamrollered from there."

IN 1993, he met Alison, a fellow American and a primate specialist, who had studied biological anthropology at Cambridge and arrived at Monkey World to discuss fencing techniques. Jim says he immediately fell in love, though it took six months of phone calls until she acquiesced. Alison says the extent of their emotional and professional compatibility still feels "bizarre". Jim raises money for the charity, Alison is more engaged in academia. However they always travel together on their mercy missions.

The Cronins' commitment to their apes is intense. "Many of these are going to outlive us and we have a duty to ensure their future for at least the next 40 years, " Jim says.

One of these precious long-term dependents is Monkey World's newest arrival, an adorable baby orang-utan born two weeks ago, weighing just 1.35kg. Yet to be named, she mewls as Mike Colbourne - the experienced keeper who has been living with her full-time since her mother Ro Ro rejected her - makes up a bottle of powdered milk for our exclusive photographs.

"Ro Ro lived in a cage in someone's kitchen before we rescued her, " says Alison. "She was an orphan who never watched her own mother care for a younger sibling and so she didn't know what to do with her baby. After she was born Ro Ro curled up into spoons with her, before swaddling her in a blanket and leaving her alone. She didn't know what to do next so we took the baby out of the enclosure to handrear her."

The birth of the orang-utan is hugely significant for the international breeding programme of these endangered apes. Very few are born in captivity. In his 30-year career, this is only the third that Mike has raised, yet experts estimate that orang-utans will be extinct in the wild within a decade, as will chimps, gorillas and gibbons. Rescue centres are the only future these animals have.

"It's a full-time commitment as I am feeding her on demand at the moment and sleeping in the same room until she's a bit older, " says Mike, who was in charge off the ape house at Chester Zoo for 27 years.

Mike's task is threefold: to nurture the baby but also to simulate the rough and tumble of her natural environment and when she is older to help her integrate with the other orangs at the centre. "Finding the right balance is very important for her future, " Mike explains.

Monkey World has the most important group of Borneo orangs outside that country and is engaged in an international breeding program. "They have been poached almost to extinction but out of tragedy something good can come, " says Alison. Six of the charity's most successful rescues are the subject of a TV series starting soon on ITV1. The rescues continue as Jim and Alison work with foreign governments to stop smuggling. "Baby primates are a cash crop;

we see our place working to end that trade, " says Alison.

THEY RECEIVE administrative support from the British Government and are currently working in partnership with the Taiwanese to help establish a sanctuary in Taiwan. "Animal smuggling is a worldwide problem, " says Jim. "But Taiwan is particularly committed and has made massive steps to eradicate the trade."

Monkey World is home to rehabilitated chimps, gorillas and orang-utans from 13 countries including the UK, Austria, France, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Holland and the Russian Federation. Each animal's story is told on picture boards outside the enclosures.

The sanctuary hears of new cases every day. They are hoping to rescue a chimp that has been chained to a boat in Turkey. Zeynep is a mature male kept illegally as a pet. As he grew he became more dangerous, until his owner decided to maroon him on a boat in Bodrum harbour, where he throws food aboard every few days. "He has promised to help us bring Zeynep to the UK, " says Alison.

When animals like Zeynep arrive they can go directly into their new social groups because each enclosure is quarantined. For apes like Zeynep or Ro Ro, who have spent their lives alone or in pain, Monkey World is a haven. "For the first time in their lives the animals are not expected to perform in some way, " explains Alison. "If they want to spend the day in bed, that's fine. After all, this is their home."

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