How It All Began

by Kari Bagnall

A white-faced capuchin monkey named Samantha is how all of this monkey business began. Samantha was born into the exotic pet trade on December 18, 1992. An ex-boyfriend originally purchased Samantha when she was four months old. He soon grew tired of her continuous shenanigans and decided to sell her! Well, I could not let that happen, especially since she was practically glued to my body. I thought Samantha was the perfect 'pet'. I have never been more wrong in my life!

Kari & Samantha

Since Samantha would rarely leave my body, I took her everywhere I went. I was escorted out of many establishments: grocery stores, movie theaters and interior design showrooms where I tried to continue my work as an interior designer. My business at the time, "Interior Design by Kari" soon became known as "Inferior Design by Samantha". As surely as I would put up a drapery, Samantha would tear it down. Samantha was not only destructive; she would bite anyone who displeased her in any way. And if someone passed by that she was intrigued with, Samantha would leap off me and onto the unsuspecting human, which was rather frightening to say the least. It became obvious to me that monkeys did not belong in public. It also became clear that Samantha needed to be with other monkeys; she needed a companion of her own kind to play with. Charlotte, Samantha's biological sister, came on the scene.

Samantha just doted on her baby sister Charlotte. I thought that with enough love and the companionship of their own kind, all would be right with the world. So I went about the business of creating a place for these two wild and wonderful beings in my home. I can tell you now that nothing short of a rain forest will do!

Holes were cut into the walls and ceiling, tunnels and runways ran through my house and outdoors. Their room was that of a spoiled child. They had a TV, radio and lights that were rigged up so that they could turn switches on and off at will. Intercoms were installed in every area. Their outdoor habitat had a grass floor with plants; misters were installed to keep them cool on a hot day. Fruit trees grew just outside their habitat so they could grab a loquat when the urge struck them. There was a lovely fountain to wade in and wash all of their precious toys and foods. Being an interior designer, I made their room a show place: rain forest wallpaper with matching drapery and bedspread fabric, a four-poster bed with mosquito netting draped around it and more toys than you could imagine! I thought that I had done a rather fine job of creating a home for my wild friends. Until...

Samantha threw the TV across the room, Charlotte tore down the wall paper, they both enjoyed ripping up draperies; they ate through the walls and ceiling, they tore up the bed and very nearly hung themselves on the mosquito netting! Outside they pushed small pebbles inside the elephant's trunk on the fountain and clogged it up, unearthed all of the grass, uprooted the plants and ripped up their shade cloth. There was something wrong with this picture. I won't even go into the numerous times that friends, family and myself had to go to the hospital to be treated for monkey bites. You can take the monkey out of the wild, but you can't take the wild out of the monkey. And you shouldn't try!

In the early years, I had no idea that 'pet' monkeys were stolen right off their mothers' backs. The babies are literally pulled away from their mother's arms as early as three days old to be sold. It is not hard to imagine the horror both baby and mother feel during this forced separation; there are always scars left from such cruelty. The more I learned about 'pet' monkeys - well, any monkeys in captivity really - the more I wanted to do everything that I could to help the monkeys. Too often humans only consider their own rights, with little or no concern for the rights of other sentient beings. I wanted to help humans understand the predicament these captive monkeys find themselves in.

Samantha and Charlotte

At the time, I volunteered as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for abused and neglected children, and everyone I worked with knew about my special friends, Samantha and Charlotte. I was asked if I would bring the monkeys to the children and give a presentation. I thought this was a great idea. With monkeys in tow, I traveled to schools and children's homes teaching our youth about the animals, their disappearing habitats, human encroachment and our fragile eco system.

Unfortunately, the most frequently asked question was, "Where can I buy a monkey?" so instead of bringing the monkeys to the children, I brought the children to the monkeys, thinking it better for the children to see the monkeys in a cage rather than sitting on my shoulder -- wrong again! This didn't work either; seeing monkeys in captivity still brought the same questions. I realized that I was doing more harm than good. To send the message that the monkeys matter, I had to first meet their needs. This was the early beginning of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, where the monkeys always come first!

Of course it is still vitally important to spread our message, and educate people of the monkeys' plight. But we now use a PowerPoint presentation called "Born to be Wild" rather than live animals to communicate. The program can be taken anywhere and given without causing stress to the monkeys, sending the wrong message or sending anyone to the hospital with a monkey bite! With this program, I can illustrate monkeys in captive situations and then in their native habitats. When people are able to see this stark contrast, it is obvious that monkeys need to be in the wild, living free with other monkeys.

Over the years many monkeys have come to Jungle Friends in a variety of ways and no matter how much we do for them, it will never be enough. When we think we have done everything we can for these wild beings, we must reach down and do some more. Jungle Friends is committed to bettering the lives of monkeys in captivity, as well as the preservation of the planet's environment and teaching others how to be better caretakers of our Earth and all its remarkable inhabitants. Please help us help those who cannot help themselves!

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