Ever fancied spending an hour or so with some cheeky monkeys? What a silly question, of course you have! Lucky for you I know just where you can make those dreams come true. It’s called the Jungle Place and it’s off the beaten track near Tulum, Mexico.
The Jungle Place is run by Heidi and Joel, and provides a sanctuary for more than 80 endangered spider monkeys. 17 years ago Heidi and Joel were looking to buy a place of their own and live a life of peace and quiet on the beach. Huh. Little did they know that fate had other plans. They were eating out one night when a local woman approached them and asked if they would like to buy a baby spider monkey as a pet. Now I don’t know about you, but I picture that scene as an old lady, bent of back, walking up to them and opening up a filthy shawl to reveal a tiny monkey. I'm not entirely sure how it actually played out, but if it’s not quite as Grimm’s fairy tale as that it oughta be.
Instead of just waving her away as most of us would do, they insisted on taking the monkey to a vet where they learnt that he was dehydrated, malnourished, ravaged by infection and on the verge of death. If he were to survive he would have nowhere to go. A victim of the illegal pet trade, he would die if released back into the wild, and there was no facility in the area that would provide him with the daily care that he would need for the rest of his life.
The vet had not considered the Heidi and Joel factor. Seriously, they should be wearing superhero capes. Not only were they determined the baby monkey would survive, they set about getting the necessary permits so that they could legally care for him for the rest of his life. Today that baby is Chaac, and he is still with them, the leader of the monkey colony.
Sadly, they quickly discovered that Chaac was not a unique case, and that there were hundreds of spider monkeys that were victims of the illegal pet trade, poaching and habitat destruction. So Heidi and Joel kissed their little beach shack plans goodbye and bought over 20 acres of jungle to start their sanctuary. It did not take long for word to spread, and they soon became the go-to place for wildlife agencies, vets, tour guides and locals to bring rescued monkeys. Fast forward to the present and Heidi and Joel have dedicated their lives to saving these spider monkeys.
This is one of those rare sanctuaries where the welfare of the animal is actually the main concern, and is put before all else. (See previous blog post Animal Tourism - the good the bad and the ugly) These monkeys are not being exploited in any way; it is totally up to them whether or not they choose to engage with you.
Before you meet the monkeys you will be asked to wash off any sunscreen, perfume and insect repellent. These can be harmful to the monkeys, and their welfare is the priority for Heidi and Joel. You will also have to remove all jewellery including watches, as their little hands are quicker than your eyes!
Be prepared to have monkeys cuddle you, jump on you and groom your hair. Also be prepared for them to give you the cold shoulder. It’s their choice. The monkeys make all the rules. You have to remember no sudden movements, no yelling, and no forcing them to sit with you if they get a better offer. Fortunately for us we had Les. They absolutely loved my husband. He was like the big silverback sitting in the corner and they could not get enough of him. (dear God please don't let him read this post)
If you are ever in this beautiful part of the world, it is more than worth paying a visit to the Jungle Place. It really is the most amazing, once in a life time experience, and you would be supporting such a worthy cause. The Jungle Place is entirely non-profit, and survives on the donations made to visit the sanctuary. You will need to book in advance though - tours are limited, but extremely vital in that they are the only way the sanctuary can survive.
(Click on the photos to enlarge)