When Potential Becomes A Reality

31st May 2010

Tony and Lara embarked on a research project which revealed that many exotic primates in captivity were living is terrible conditions in people’s homes. Owners of these ‘pets’ often realised too late the difficulties involved in keeping such animals, but had no idea where to send them. It had also become apparent that many zoos had a surplus of primates because of space constraints, and both Tony and Lara knew that they could be in a position to give all of these creatures a healthier and more natural life.


In 1996, Tony and Lara bought a farm situated in a section of the original Tsitsikamma forest in The Crags. Tony then approached people with a passion for animals in trouble, to raise the funds for a world-class primate sanctuary. Other like-minded shareholders came on board, and after appropriate environmental studies and scoping of all affected parties, (including highly supportive and encouraging neighbours), construction began in October 1997. With Tony and Lara came Rodger Ndubane, Tony’s friend, confidante, first ranger and now general manager of Monkeyland. “It would not have been possible to build the sanctuary without Rodger, who is a figure larger than life” says Tony.


During the eight months it took to build the sanctuary, Tony and Lara assembled their ‘debut’ group of primates in rehabilitation cages throughout the forest. On completion of the perimeter fencing, nearly 100 previously-caged primates were released and there was profound satisfaction all round as the monkeys displayed their excitement and joy in what had become the world’s first free-roaming, multi-species primate sanctuary. So attractive is this environment that unwanted cats now share the space with the primates!


Word spread far and wide and international primatologists, presidents, African leaders, ambassadors and film stars all came here specifically for the Monkeyland experience. The strict ‘no-touch’ policy and the patient rehabilitation and training processes have resulted in monkeys which are neither shy nor boisterous and many film companies have been quick to spot the advantages of filming them in their magnificent habitat. And it helps that the sanctuary has a 118m suspension bridge – the longest of its kind in Africa. Neither Tony nor Lara rest on their laurels – there is always something new in the pipeline and webcam facilities have now been installed at the suspension bridge, enabling visitors to download their experience at the sanctuary. The plan is to provide head cams in due course.


What is not widely known is the fact that the area surrounding Monkeyland is untouched forest, which acts as a greenbelt and that Monkeyland protects this forest for indigenous baboons, monkeys and local wildlife as well.


Marketing is Lara’s portfolio. This dynamic and charming woman also has the capacity to keep her eyes firmly on the objectives whilst maintaining awareness of the ‘bigger picture’. She speaks with enthusiasm of their latest venture – the linking of Monkeyland with a brand new Monkey Island just off Chalong Bay in Phuket, Thailand. Building on the links between Thai and South African Tourism, this new concept is in response to the extensive destruction of rainforest areas in South East Asia and because Monkeyland’s forest has almost reached maximum capacity. The Thai Monkey Island will offer a free-roaming home to the monkeys which cannot be accommodated at Monkeyland. By July 2008, community buy-in had already been obtained and, at time of writing, Tony and Lara were en route to Thailand to tie up agreements at government level.


This wholly dedicated duo delivers the goods way beyond expectations. You have only to visit their website, or pick up their Monkeyland Guide Book to see that a unique combination of professionalism and passion is their hallmark.


Contact Monkeyland at 044 434 8906; Email info@monkeyland.co.za; website www.monkeyland.co.za

written Christine Maron