What’s it like to volunteer at a Primate Sanctuary

It's a lot of monkey business

For almost 4 years I have been volunteering at Story Book Farm Primate Sanctuary, helping to care for and improve the lives of the lemurs, old and new world monkeys under our care.  After graduating with my Masters in evolutionary anthropology and moving back to Toronto I wanted to find a way to stay connected to my love of primates.  I found Story Book and first went up for an open volunteer day.  You could say it was love at first sight.  Seeing all the monkeys and lemurs jumping and playing in their enclosures and hearing the sad stories of how they made their way to the sanctuary made me want to start helping right away.  

Through my time there I have the opportunity to form some amazing bonds with our residents.  Rudy, a squirrel monkey who was found in a shipping container, dehydrated and losing most of his hair, was nursed back to health and now is a colourful and furry ball of energy.  When I go into his enclosure to clean up (he makes a big mess for a little monkey!), he will sit on my head, shoulders and lap, constantly seeing if there is any interesting or new around my neck (he loves necklaces).  Squirrel monkeys tend to be nervous of new things so whenever I put a new toy in his enclosure I hold it and let him sit on my lap while he explores and checks it out, then he feels more comfortable to play with it on his own.  

There is Jullian, a Japanese macaque, who used to live in a roadside zoo and actually escaped. He was found a few weeks later and was tranquilized and we took him in. He has a lot of stress related behaviours due to his previous confinement, such as biting himself.  He is quite large and can be very aggressive.  But on sunny warm days he will be sitting in his outdoor enclosure and I’ll pick some fresh grass, which he loves, and pass it to him through the caging.  He will gently take it using his opposable thumb and fingers and we sit in comfortable silence as I listen to him munch away.  We can sit there together for a long time, just enjoying the warm day and each others company.  It is in those quite moments that I know this is where I am supposed to be.  

With all this good stuff, there is also a lot of work.  Most of my time spent at the sanctuary involves cleaning monkey poop (they don’t clean up after themselves!), making their fresh food dinners and making enrichment toys for them so they don’t get bored.  Monkeys are very smart and need a lot of stimulation so they don’t get bored and result to stress related behaviours like pacing, biting and over-grooming themselves.  By giving them boxes and jars stuffed with paper and treats they have to use their brains to figure out how to open the containers and get to the yummy treats inside.  We also give them whole nuts in the shell so they have to figure out how to break open the shell to get to the nuts inside.  The use their teeth, or bang the nut on the wall till it cracks.  All of these things help keep them busy and stimulated.

The Sanctuary is always in need of volunteers and donations.  It is solely run by a dedicated group of volunteers and donors.  If you are interested in getting involved, you can head over to the Story Book Farm website or contact me and I can get you in touch with the right people.  The monkey’s appreciate your support! 

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