With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m highlighting a few charitable organizations that are near and dear to my heart. Today, I’m featuring Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary. Click here to see how you can help by adopting a primate, purchasing items from their wish list, becoming a member, and more — and keep reading to learn more about Born Free Primate Sanctuary.
This Summer I had the privilege to visit the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, thanks to the amazing people at The Body Shop. Their 186-acre sanctuary in Dilley, Texas is home to more than 600 nonhuman primates – macaques, baboons, and vervets – many of whom were rescued from abusive or exploitative situations.
In order to allow the primates privacy — it’s incredibly important to them to keep their environment as natural and be as non-intrusive as possible — the sanctuary is not open to the public. In fact, the residents have very limited human interaction with the employees who live and work at the sanctuary. Since Born Free USA is The Body Shop’s charity partner and exclusive beneficiary of their rewards program donations, they graciously invited me (and two amazing customers!) to come along with them for a private tour led by Director Tim Ajax, who has dedicated his life to the cause. He knew every one of their names, their backgrounds, their health and social issues, and his number one concern was to educate us about their residents without compromising their comfort. Despite their efforts to limit human interaction, they were very protective of him, too — I’m pretty sure they know he saved their lives — because whenever anyone got too close to him, they would get pretty angry at us! Needless to say, it was an emotional and incredibly special experience that I won’t forget. I did seem to charm one very flirtatious baboon who continuously made kissy noises toward me, which was pretty much the highlight of my trip.
Many of the permanent residents were rescued from roadside zoos, private possession, or retired from medical research facilities. It surprised me to learn that the most maladjusted were often the ones who were once “pets” — who had no social interactions with their own species, received little to no veterinary attention, were kept in unnatural environments, fed inappropriate food. Some of these people, as Tim pointed out, were well meaning people who thought it would be fun to have a monkey as a pet (and some were simply abusive, awful human beings). Some were empty nesters looking for a new “baby” to fill a void, some were sold a lie that they make great pets and are easy to care for. This is no excuse for neglect or poor care, but I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes well meaning people should be educated, not just berated, to help break that cycle and keep others from making the same mistake. Screaming and shaming falls on deaf ears, and can make people afraid of doing the right thing — which in cases like this, is to give these primates a second chance at life at the sanctuary.
Often bought as cute babies, primates tend to exhibit unpredictable behavior after the age of 2, becoming larger and more aggressive. Since there are no federal laws in the US that ban primate ownership, it’s up to the states — and it varies wildly from state to state, with 11 simply requiring a permit and 14 having virtually no regulation at all. Born Free USA is working to change that through litigation, legislation, and public education. The thing is, it’s human nature to be fascinated by these amazing monkeys. I remember when I was kid, watching that movie “Monkey Trouble” and thinking how cool it would be to have a pet monkey. Not because I hated them and wanted them to have a horrible life, but because I loved them and didn’t know any better. Born Free’s mission is to make sure that people know better, to give these primates the life they deserve, and to change legislation for a better future. In short, they’re pretty much angels.
Let’s give them some help, can we? You can be part of our effort to give these rescued individuals a second chance at a more normal life through Born Free’s Sanctuary Adoption Program. I “adopted” Khy, a snow monkey who started as a pet and is now enjoying his life at the sanctuary. You can also find other ways to get involved, here.
Note: All photos are provided by Born Free USA. I didn’t take many pictures because I wanted to respect the primates and not disturb them!