Primate Sanctuary Provides Happy Home for Hard Luck Monkeys

Miss Riley, a large stump-tailed macaque, selects a carrot and hands it to her roommate, Bugs. As Bugs (as in “Bunny”) starts to eat, Riley leans in close, her face within inches of the rabbit’s mouth, watching intently as she chews. Though Riley loves carrots and generally scolds anyone who comes near her food tray, she freely shares carrots and broccoli with Bugs, and delights in watching her much smaller, long-eared companion eat. On other occasions, Riley pets and grooms Bugs, and generally keeps close watch over her pal. 

Riley is a retired research monkey—one of several lucky enough to have found a home at the OPR Coastal Primate Sanctuary, a rescue facility in Longview, Washington. OPR was established (originally in Oregon, as “Oregon Primate Rescue”) in 1998 "to provide lifetime care in a humane and enriching environment” to unwanted, orphaned or crippled monkeys taken in from private owners, from government agencies, and to those—like Riley—retired from research.

Most of the time, OPR tries to pair monkeys with other monkeys to provide companionship. When Riley couldn’t be housed with another of her kind, OPR founder and CEO, Polly Schultz, tried the rabbit, so Riley could still have the opportunity to touch and snuggle with another warm body. Through a long and deliberate process, Schultz introduced the disparate pair to make sure Bugs would be accepted. She was. Riley clearly likes having Bugs around, and according to Schultz, “Bugs learned quickly that whenever Miss Riley was crunching away on fresh produce, she could approach her and expect to be hand-fed carrots, broccoli and other goodies from this gentle giant.” Schultz has since successfully paired other monkeys with rabbits (such as Bob, who graces this issue’s cover).

OPR is not only a place of refuge, but an educational resource, as well. Some of the research animals at OPR don’t “retire” entirely, as staff and interns at the sanctuary observe them and conduct non-invasive behavioral studies. Schultz herself co-authored a paper published in the American Journal of Primatology on how macaques will use human hair or other tools to floss their teeth. Other studies have documented self-awareness (by a monkey named Annie who demonstrated an understanding that the image in a mirror was her, not another monkey), and the ability to use novel tools (as demonstrated by Pearly Su, a retired research monkey who could hang her own hammock using quick links).

Schultz says working to advance OPR’s mission, along with the 24/7 care of the primates, is an enormous challenge. “Countless sleepless nights, checkbook woes, and trying to make a difference in the lives of these very special but needy creatures takes a toll.” While offering health, diet, enrichment and management information to all who care for captive primates, OPR also seeks to raise awareness of the enormous difficulties inherent in keeping primates as pets, in hopes of reducing the number of unwanted primates in the private sector. “There are so many people buying pet monkeys,” says Schultz. “Monkeys (and chimps) are being sold to families without any experience or ability to properly care for an adult primate, and the babies grow quickly!”

Often, these home situations spiral badly out of control, and many of the primates taken in by OPR have suffered severe neglect and, sometimes, horrific abuse.

One OPR resident had been kept by her owner in diapers that were changed once a week, held in place with a denim cover the monkey couldn’t remove. To prevent biting during diaper changes, 16 of her teeth were removed… without sedatives. By the time OPR got her, the waist collar had grown into her body and her diaper wounds were so deep they ulcerated nearly to the bone. Another monkey (dubbed “Kermie”) hopped along like a frog, his leg muscles atrophied after being padlocked in a small dog crate from the time he was 5 until he was 10 years old. This was followed by seven more years in a filthy, poorly lit, smoke-filled room in the back of a trailer, where he developed serious lung issues. In both cases, Schultz and her sanctuary staff rescued the monkeys and did what they had done for many others: They gave them a happy home and nursed them back to relative health—both physically and psychologically.

The nonprofit facility gets requests several times a year from researchers seeking a home for favorite primates ending their time as research subjects. According to Schultz, “The sad truth of limited funding means that not all requested intakes can be accepted. One can only hope that those engaging in animal testing will someday be required to include, within their project budgets, funding appropriate to provide care at a sanctuary for the lifetime of the animal.”

A true sanctuary, it is not open to the public, but does provide free, private educational tours by appointment. “We don’t charge a fee,” says Schultz, "but do ask for a donation to help us continue our mission of hope for the monkeys. Some donate fresh produce, Kong toys, etc., in lieu of cash.”

OPR moved from Oregon to its current home in Washington three years ago, on 28 acres of donated land nestled in the woods. The primates are housed in two separate barns—one for Old World and one for New World monkeys. New enclosures are constructed as needed. “Because we are a ‘one new enclosure at a time’ sanctuary,” says Schultz, “we are normally near or at full capacity,” and tend to take in new monkeys only as funding allows. In the really bad cases, however, Schultz says she’ll rescue the monkey and figure out the money and boarding issues later. Schultz says most of her husband’s income also goes into the “monkey fund,” adding wryly, "Sure am glad he loves me.”

For Schultz, however, there is no other path. Why does she spend every waking hour in the service of OPR? “Because it matters,” she states simply. “I think part of my passion for the primates, and why I have to help them, is because they are intelligent thinking creatures, and I know they share human emotions. I see it every day. So it's just really hard for me to see a creature so intelligent, so much like us in so many ways, in a filthy parrot cage in someone’s basement, eating stale dog food, sitting in feces in a smoke filled room—depressed and so alone.”

For many OPR residents, the facility represents an evergreen oasis after a bleak and barren existence. Through the ministrations of Polly Schultz and her crew, as well as the companionship of other primates (and the occasional rabbit), the monkeys at OPR receive the space, care and emotional support so long withheld but needed and deserved.

George, a rhesus macaque, was kidnapped from a jungle in Thailand at three days old. His abductors used dangerous drugs of improper type and strength to keep him sedated during the long trip from Thailand through customs and into the US. The repeated use of these drugs combined with George’s tender age caused damage to his neurological system, resulting in tremors.

Because George wasn’t properly tested before entering the US, authorities placed baby George in strict quarantine in a research facility for three months before he could be transferred to the OPR sanctuary. At this young age, George should have been cuddling in the security of his mother’s arms, suckling and being groomed, learning skills to help him thrive as an adult.

Instead, following his cruel abduction, he spent three months frightened and alone in an unfamiliar cold steel cage, untouched, no mother to nurse or reassure him—not even a comforting bottle which he should have been on until at least a year old. Eventually, OPR was awarded full and permanent custody of George. Now a lively adolescent, George loves the outdoor swimming area at OPR.

Annie, born in a captive breeding facility and having lost her mother during the birth process, was fed mechanically for the first five months of life. Isolated from other monkeys she was rarely touched, nurtured or socialized. In addition, Annie was the product of severe inbreeding through a program the breeder designed with hopes of creating a smaller version of the cynomolgus monkey. As a result of this inbreeding Annie was born with an array of health and emotional problems which made pairing her with another monkey impossible. Annie became OPR's mascot and spent a great deal of time with Schultz. As mentioned in the article “I See Myself” published in the Summer 2006 AWI Quarterly, Annie demonstrated self-awareness—recognizing her image in the mirror and using the mirror as a tool to examine her mouth or remove bits of food from her teeth.

Ivan the Great
OPR’s most recent arrival is “Ivan the Great,” a rhesus macaque and 17-year veteran of a testing facility. Ivan was shy at first. When Schultz put tiny pieces of dried mango in the palm of her hand and held the open hand near the bars of his enclosure, he would reach through and take the treats, then dart back to a perch near the top.

After a while—as soon as she knew he was about to retreat—Schultz would quickly offer more treats and Ivan would stay a bit longer. After he took the treats she would leave her open hand extended where he could reach it. His eyes would move back and forth from Schultz’s eyes to her hand. Each time he was made to wait longer before Schultz placed another treat in her hand. In time he lost interest in retreating at all and just sat there next to Schultz.

On one occasion, Schultz’s hand had been extended for some time when he reached through the bars and gently tapped her palm with his fingertips, followed by immediate eye contact. She placed another treat in her palm, which he took. Afterwards, he tapped the empty palm three more times, each time followed by immediate eye contact.

This time, however, Schultz didn't respond with additional treats, but rather remained still, observing him. After a short time, Ivan held his own right hand out and tapped his open palm with his left fingertips just as he had tapped Schultz’s. Schultz was awestruck and quickly placed a treat in the palm of Ivan’s hand. Ivan repeated this behavior several times. He was communicating in a way never before observed with OPR monkeys.

One morning Schultz and her husband, Skip, woke to a choir of alarming cries from the macaque barn. After more than a decade of working with macaques, Schultz knew something was desperately wrong. She’d never heard such distressing cries. “When I opened the door to the macaque barn, timid little Mandy was frantically extending her arms through the bars of her enclosure and reaching out toward Amy, an old Barbary macaque. Every macaque in the barn was cooing out painfully intense mourning calls and looking in the direction of Amy's enclosure. I knew without even looking what had happened and began to cry. I found Amy lying lifeless on the ledge she so enjoyed sleeping on. She had passed away peacefully in the night. I remembered the day we rescued Amy. Morbidly obese, injury-covered body, maggot clusters in both armpits the size of baseballs and infected, untreated wounds on her abdomen. A noble creature so mistreated who had suffered for so many years.” Knowing Amy's last years were peaceful and happy at OPR, Schultz’s tears weren't so much for Amy, but for her troop, grieving so hard at her passing. “It was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced.” Another lesson learned: Monkeys like humans, do mourn the loss of loved ones.

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