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Monkey World News

Ape Expectations: Enjoying a spot of monkey business at Dorset's wildlife haven

23rd December 2012

As a child I longed for a monkey, in the days when you could easily buy one from a pet shop. I had my photo taken with a suspiciously docile monkey at a department store and went to chimp tea parties at London Zoo, where I tried to ignore the fact that they were chained.

Creature comfort: Monkey World does sterling work in Dorset

How things, thankfully, have changed. Because here I am 40 years later at the world's largest monkey and ape rescue centre - Monkey World in Dorset where over 250 primates live on a 65 acre site.

My daughter Ruby and her cousin Amelia look shocked as guide Mike Colbourne explains its history. It started 25 years ago with chimps rescued from beach photographers in Spain. Others come from the illegal pet trade, zoos and laboratories. 'This is a happy retirement home for those who were abused,' says Mike. He stresses that we shouldn't think of them as cute. 

First we visit Sally, an ex-prop for a beach photographer. She acts as surrogate mother to younger chimps. The primates live in family groups and seem very busy - snacking, playing with paper cups, swinging from ropes - and not at all stressed. Hardly anyone can help saying: 'Don't they look cute?'. Mike warns us not to humanise them; many were trained to entertain humans. We see a chimp swing from a climbing frame. It stops and claps. We clap back, and when we're advised not to, the animal shrugs and looks affronted.

Cute, but don't say so: Visitors are encouraged not to humanise the monkeys

Our entry to Monkey World comes as we're staying at Mortons House Hotel. It was built in 1590 in the shape of an 'E' to honour Queen Elizabeth I. We're in the atmospheric loft room with views of ruined Corfe Castle. There is plenty to do, even on a Sunday. Attractions include a model village built in the Sixties, a tiny museum housed in the smallest town hall in England, and the glorious Victorian steam-train ride to Swanage and the Jurassic coastline. As it's half term, there are people on board making balloons. Ruby asks for one in the shape of a monkey. This one she is allowed to call cute, and she falls asleep with it later on her bed.  

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