Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike
It was mid morning and I had to force myself not to sleep anymore, hard work on a Sunday. I looked out my window and another great day lay before me. I had no plan for the day but plenty of time to think about it. A cup of coffee later and I was onto something. I felt like taking a walk, with shoes on. Another cup of coffee down the hatch and I decided to take a walk, with shoes on, to see some animals.
I thought it would be the perfect day to visit Monkeyland and Birds of Eden in The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. I arrived at the gates of Monkeyland where a friendly monkey ushered me to the reception area where I paid a very special price of R200 to visit both sites. A bargain some might say. The monkey behind the till gladly took my money and directed me to the waiting area where Neil, the monkey guide, was to start the monkey tour. In the near distance of the forest, I could hear my fellow primates swearing at each other, quite a freaky racket to bear witness to, but amusing nonetheless.
Within a few minutes, a troop of monkey tourists gathered and Neil, the monkey guide, arrived to start the hour-long monkey tour. Welcome to Monkeyland, the world’s first multi-species free roaming primate sanctuary. The main focus of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, is to rehabilitate and release previously caged monkeys, apes, lemurs and birds into a free-roaming environment, some of which originating from many parts of the world.
The monkey tour began and we soon reached the first feeding point, an elevated tray laden with fresh fruit. Within seconds all kinds of monkeys, apes and lemurs were making their way from the canopy above to feed on the fruit buffet below. It was a primate feeding frenzy like I have never seen before. I was very tempted to join in the feast but resisted for obvious reasons. In the distance, I could hear my primate friends swearing at each other again. I chuckled to myself as monkey chaos ensued around me. It was a remarkable moment in time and a remarkably sad one too.
We continued with the monkey tour, spotting the odd Vervet here and a Lemur there and then the forest fell quiet, not a sound to be heard. Neil, our monkey guide, was indecisive as to what route to take next. He then shared some interesting facts about monkeys, answered some monkey questions and soon we were back on the monkey trail. It wasn’t long before a bridge lay before us, suspended in the canopy, offering a scenic view of the beautiful forest surrounding us. We crossed it carefully and upon reaching the other side, the monkey tour ended and Monkeyland was but a fleeting monkey memory.
Birds of Eden was next on my hit list. I have never been an avid birder but I saw the value in the experience. In the car park, I looked upon this mammoth bird sanctuary before me and thoughts of Jurassic Park filled my monkey brain. I proceeded to enter Birds of Eden, but with caution, as a good monkey should. In the first five minutes, a big white Cockatoo flew straight towards my head, I ducked just in time and it perched right beside me to feed on some seed. That Cockatoo freaked me out.
Welcome to Birds of Eden, a beautiful place indeed. I decided to really proceed with caution now. There were birds flying everywhere, it felt like every bird was after me as I entered their maze. I had to watch my back, often. This was a birder’s paradise, a surreal experience, really amazing. About half an hour into my walk, a large Blue and Gold Mawcaw got sight of me and flew swiftly towards me and tried to perch on my shoulder, I quickly ducked, denying it the pleasure. These birds were really freaking me out now. I laughed out loud and taunted them to leave me alone.
I looked up and saw my friend, a large male Chacma Baboon patrolling the top of the sanctuary, it was defending me, obviously. I walked a little faster, with the end of my Jurassic Park experience almost in sight. With a sigh of relief, I made it, I was free again. Free?
I took a moment to ponder on my day. Although the experience of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden was fun and informative, a deeper concern was pecking at my monkey brain. Why are these sanctuaries here, I asked myself? I thought about it and soon my monkey brain came up with the answer. We live in a sick and twisted society. Humans cage wild animals as pets and these animals lose their ability to survive in the wild. So, we build sanctuaries for them, to save them from doom, where they spend the rest of their lives slowly re-learning what they already knew before they met us, how to be wild… For all these animals, these sanctuaries and all those around the world, at least provide a taste of the freedom they once knew. As human beings, it’s the least we can do for them, for we live in cages of our own and freedom we know not.
I got into my car and drove away and in a field nearby I saw my friends again, a troop of foraging baboons. I waved goodbye. They smiled and waved hello. Finally, it dawned on me. I’m just a monkey too and so are you.
If you ever happen to be driving through The Crags or if you are on holiday in Plettenberg Bay and are in need of some rehabilitation from the outside world, stop over at Monkeyland and Birds of Eden and support them, for they are doing a sterling job for the conservation of our beautiful wildlife. It’s a great experience your monkey brain won’t forget.