Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary – My 2010 Residential.

I’ve just been looking through the ancient archives of my inbox and I found a report that I wrote in 2010 for Nottingham University Enrichment Fund (NEF) on completion of my 4 week residential voluntary placement at The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall so I thought it might be nice to post it here!

I had applied to the funding committee to help cover the costs of my transport and expenses while staying at the sanctuary and after a nerve-wracking ten minute presentation (with questions) about me, the sanctuary and the impact I would make on the community; I was successful in receiving a £250 grant. The NEF used my story as an example in the advertisement for the following year which was nice! (this link will download a doc. file of the advert)

Below is a copy of the report and photographs that I had included as proof of  my activities as per the conditions of the grant.

After a seven hour journey I finally arrived at The Monkey Sanctuary near Looe at around 6pm on Saturday 2nd July. My first impressions were that it was in the middle of nowhere, but the surroundings were very beautiful. The site was first used as a sanctuary for Woolly Monkeys rescued from the pet trade in 1964, when Len Williams moved into Murrayton House and started taking in primates. The house is situated in a sort of plateau half way up a very steep hill from the beach, which is about 10 minutes walk away. There are 28 monkeys living at the sanctuary and they socialise in small groups.

The woolly monkeys; Pablo, Caju, Ivor, Oliver and Maya (the only female) live together across seven enclosures which are all linked by runways some of which lay above the public paths. The Woollies have 2 rooms inside the house below the keeper’s living quarters, and 5 different areas outside the house but these all have wooden huts for them to shelter from the weather or sleep in. These monkeys were all born at the sanctuary (Ollie being the most recent addition seven years ago). They are grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original monkeys that Len Williams rescued in the 60’s. The Monkey Sanctuary was the first place to successfully breed Woolly Monkey’s in captivity, something many other sanctuaries and zoos have struggled to do because these monkeys do not adapt well to captive life. The original plan was to breed the monkeys in captivity and release them into the wild population in South America and this dream was realised in a lucky few. However, recent studies found a form of virus and specific antibodies in the Woolly Monkeys here at the sanctuary, as well as other unrelated captive woolly monkeys that is yet to be found in wild populations. The captive monkeys are immune to the virus but the rehabilitation and release program had to be stopped for fear of introducing a potentially dangerous epidemic into the wild monkey colonies. This, as well as an unusually high number of male monkey births upsetting the ratio of male:female monkeys, also brought an end to the breeding program at the sanctuary, but the 5 remaining woollies will live out the rest of their days happily at the sanctuary.

There are 19 capuchins at The Monkey Sanctuary and all have been rescued from the pet trade. These are mostly Black-Capped Capuchins but there are also a few Weeper Capuchins and 2 hybrid capuchins. The capuchins are split into small groups each of which are dominated by an alpha male and an alpha female. The largest group is made up of Frosty (alpha male), his girlfriend Jackie, Boo Boo, Micky and Grips and Kiwi. These are the capuchins who are most often on show to the public as they are more settled around people. The rest of the capuchins are in enclosures “behind the scenes”. Most of these have serious behavioural and physical problems as a result of their treatment whilst being kept as pets. The worst case is probably Joey, a black capped capuchin who was kept for 9 years in a 3’x6’ cage in a shed at the end of a garden, with no natural light and a very poor diet. He has severe deformities and debilitating bone disease caused by a lack of vitamin D. When he first arrived at the sanctuary he had never been outside or seen another monkey so he was very scared and sat for hours in the hut clinging to a blanket and rocking back and forth. However, after much time and attention from the keepers, Joey is now living a happy life with his new found friend Kodak (rescued from a camera shop in Greece) and he is able to get the correct vitamins and medication to give him the best quality of life he could have in the given circumstances.

At the sanctuary I shared a room with 4 other volunteers, who were staying for varying amounts of time (from 2 weeks to 6 weeks). The house is not only home to the Woolly Monkeys at night time, but also to around 20 staff: keepers, long term volunteers and interns. The work is all carried out on a rota, and each night (except Friday and Saturdays) one of the keepers cooks a vegan meal for the whole house. This kind of communal living was new to me and surprisingly I really enjoyed the feel of it as well as the ethical and economical reasoning behind the way of life.

My first working day at the sanctuary had an early start. From 8.30am until public opening at 11am, I cleaned out the Woolly Monkey enclosures (called “routine”). Every shelf and flat surface needs to be brushed off and wiped down with hot soapy water, and all monkey mess and old food is picked up and taken to the compost bins. Each morning the water bowls are emptied and refilled (right to the brim – Woolly Monkeys don’t drink water unless they are ill so the bowls are filled right to the top so that keepers can see if a monkey has taken any water from the bowl). After routine I went to work in the on site vegetarian café, washing up and waiting on tables for 2 hours. I spent the afternoon exploring the sanctuary with the visitors, getting to know my way around and listening to keeper talks.


The second day I started with routine and followed this with children’s workshops. This is a photograph of me and 4 ½ year old Emily from Scotland who was on holiday with her family. I helped her make frog puppets for her and her younger sister, as well as an origami snake.  [Edit – photographed removed as I am unable to get parental permission to post online]
The workshops are very important for the sanctuary because they keep the children entertained, making them less likely run around and make too much noise which might upset the monkeys. As well as this, it’s always nice for the children to be able to take away a free souvenir of their day at the monkey sanctuary. The rest of the week was spent doing routine, café, workshops and jobs list. I learnt how to make the morning, lunchtime and dinner fruit bowls for the woolly monkeys, which wild leaves to pick from the coastal path for their supper and how to bake the “monkey cake”. A week into my stay there was much excitement at the sanctuary about Looe Annual Raft Race in the nearest town. The monkey sanctuary took the promotional opportunity, entering at team and building a raft but to the amusement of those watching it fell apart half way around the course (making it further than some other teams). I went down to Looe with Emmie, an office intern, to hand out leaflets to the public watching. The Monkey Sanctuary has been selected as one of the top 20 UK wildlife attractions by TV channel Eden, who will feature a documentary programme on the winner of these 20, so I was also asking people to fill in voting forms to help our chances.


Here I’m picking Pink Campion on the coastal path. Each time we’re expect to fill at least one carrier bag to bring back a nice supper for the Woolly Monkeys. Their favourite leaves and flowers are hazel, pink campion, yarrow, sorrel, dock and dandelion.


This is Oliver the Woolly Monkey enjoying the first monkey cake I ever baked. They make a trilling sound which sounds like a bird when they like it.  I was lucky enough to please them with my first attempt.
Monkey Cake Recipe:
1 apple + 1 pear as a sweetener
1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup of carbohydrate (rye grain/buckwheat/rice/millet)
1 cup of protein (tofu/soaked beans/egg/lentils)
A handful of raisins
3 chopped dried apricots
1 cup oat flakes

Boil the apple, pear, raisins and apricots until soft. Add the cinnamon to the saucepan.

Cook the carbohydrate and protein (if using beans or lentils).
Blend together everything except the oat flakes.

Gradually mix together the blended mix with the oat flakes until it forms a dough consistency.

Transfer the mix into a baking dish, add knife holes to allow air in and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until cooked through.

On Saturdays there is no monkey cake and the monkeys have boiled chicken instead. This is the only meat put into their diet, but occasionally they take it into their own hands, catching birds that enter their enclosures and eating them.


Here is a photograph I took of Micky the capuchin with a swallow she had caught. It was suprising that she could catch and eat it so well as when she arrived at the sanctuary she had to have 14 teeth removed (they were rotten as a result of her poor diet when kept as a pet).

Over the next three weeks I learnt many more things. I learned about the different vitamins and medication that they give each monkey according to its need and how best to administer it. Of course, it is well known that monkey’s love bananas but at the sanctuary they are only given these as special treats to cover the taste of crushed pills or liquids when they need special medication.


I was taught how to prepare the capuchin fruit bowls which are more difficult because there are 19 capuchins as opposed to 5 woollies and they live in groups of 6 or less. As well as the number of capuchins, a few of them (such as Micky, above) have special requirements such as extra boiled vegetables and shelled nuts as they sometimes struggle to eat the same things other capuchins would. Like the Woolly Monkeys, they have a menu that is different for morning and evening fruit bowls every single day. This is a photo of the Sunday morning capuchin fruit bowls that I prepared. They contain carrot, cucumber, cabbage, red pepper (their favourite), chicory, tomato and 6 nuts per monkey (either peanuts or cracked nuts for Micky, Joey and Kwango). On the left is a bowl with 10 apples in it. These are left separate to the fruit bowls so that the keepers can ensure every monkey gets its fair share of fruit by handing them out directly.

In my free time I tried lots of new things with the friends I made at the sanctuary. Tjark (an ex outdoor instructor) took me and some of the other volunteers rock climbing in a quarry. Will, the volunteer co-ordinator, and his girlfriend taught me how to meditate in the gardens (or how to try anyway… it was very difficult). I went to an Aikido class for the first time with Nick, a friend of the sanctuary. I visited St Ives with two of the other volunteers. I went swimming in the sea a lot and I walked the coastal path many times. I also spent time socialising and networking with the keepers at the local pub (a 45 minute walk away) which was great because the relaxed atmosphere meant I could ask more questions and learn more about the sanctuary, charity and monkeys than they had time to tell me at work.

Finally, I want to thank the Nottingham Enrichment Fund for helping me grasp this opportunity to do something different. I’m very grateful to you all. My first time volunteering at this beautiful place has got me hooked and I can’t wait to go back and stay at the sanctuary again. If any of you holiday down that way, I’d totally recommend a visit to Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary, Looe, Cornwall.

Reading this brings back lots of wonderful memories. I volunteered for 5 weeks the following summer as well but haven’t had the opportunity to go back since. However, I recently got my first car so I’m hoping to make a trip down that way soon!

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.


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