Lee Ward - Starting a Sanctuary?

Jungle Voices

Starting a Sanctuary? Start with Jungle Friends

by Lee Ward, founder of Koreymonde Capuchin Rescue

Lee WardIn 1998, while working at a vet clinic in Dallas, Texas, a client brought in a white-faced capuchin monkey. The monkey was interesting; I had never seen a capuchin and never realized that people kept monkeys as pets. Even more outstanding, the owner no longer wanted the monkey; because she was sick, the owner wished to be rid of her. I immediately asked if I could have her, and he signed her over to me.

The monkey, Korey, was so sick we could only perform a few tests. We suspected Korey was malnourished, since she was so thin, had signs of hair loss, and could not walk at all, plus, at 3 years old she weighed only 1.5 pounds. Later I learned she should have weighed 4 to 5 pounds. I spoke with the previous owner about the monkey's diet, since I did not have a clue and back then information was not readily available on the internet. He told me that she ate only candy and carrots! I knew this was not a proper diet for a monkey (or any animal) so I began giving her fresh fruits and vegetables which she readily ate. When Korey's condition improved we ran tests that confirmed the diagnosis of malnourishment. It took about a year to get Korey fully recovered and by that time I began to think that there must be other monkeys out there that need help; after all, Korey was no problem to handle so how hard could it be?

I began to contact various sanctuaries for information on how to start a sanctuary. Kari was the only one who responded to my request. After talking with her at length I was convinced that the best thing to do was to come to Gainesville, Florida and intern with them for 1000 hours/6 months. So I put my job on hold, packed up Korey, and headed to Florida.

I was not prepared for what I would see there. Not only were there monkeys everywhere I turned, but they were all in habitats on natural ground with trees and plants, and they all lived with monkey friends. I had thought by not putting Korey in a cage at home, taking her to and from work with me and playing with her regularly I was doing great. Well, I was wrong. Living as a pet in a human home, Korey was missing a whole other world. I also realized that yes, this was truly what I wanted to do: help other monkeys.

I completed the 1,000 hour intern program in less than 4 months. During that time I learned many, many things, such as habitat building, general maintenance, diets suited for the different species of primates, how to capture a monkey, how to interpret the gestures, facial expressions and sounds of all the monkeys, and how to work with diabetic monkeys.

At the end of my internship I went back to Dallas to put things in order so I could return to continue working with the monkeys as Jungle Friends' head caregiver, and work towards my goal of starting my own sanctuary. I was fortunate that my partner was able to continue working to support us, allowing me to work full-time at Jungle Friends without pay, so the money was not taken from the monkeys.

After several years at Jungle Friends I moved on to open my own private facility, Koreymonde Capuchin Rescue. The habitats, standard of care, and philosophy are based on what I learned from Jungle Friends. I accepted my first rescue monkey in April 2007. Since that time I have taken in seven other monkeys and have almost reached the limit that I can care for by myself. I would have reached capacity even more quickly had I not limited myself to a single species, white-faced capuchins – there is a huge need for sanctuaries. However, because I cannot afford to grow very large, I felt it was important to limit the species so there would be adequate opportunity for all the monkeys to be socialized with compatible companions of their own species.

As I said earlier, I am a private facility; I do not receive any funding from agencies or ex-owners. I chose not to become a non-profit because the continuous struggles one has to raise operating funds and the burden of the paperwork. Fundraising and paperwork are not my strength, and I feel that burden would detract from the job of taking care of the monkeys – which is my strength. Kari is a rare exception, able to do it all: the monkey side, the business side, and the fundraising side.

Overall, if it were not for Kari taking the time and talking to me back in 1998 - and then providing the opportunity to learn what I needed to learn -- another safe haven for monkeys in need would never have been established. Yes, it is hard work and not everyone is suited for the job, but there are people out there who can do what I do and after working/learning at Jungle Friends a few people can make a difference.

Since I have been working with primates I have heard all the stories of why people have monkeys, I have witnessed the world's worst monkey diets, and the aftermath of abuse—often unintentional, but it happens. I believe there are other pet monkey owners, like myself, who are simply uninformed and misguided; people who truly care about their monkey and are willing to change their entire life to do right by the monkeys, once they know what that means. And there are others, like me, who have no talent for fundraising but who are quite willing to put in the hard work, long-term, to provide for animals in need.

I would love to see a program put in place and funded to help people step up and take responsibility. Maybe we could amass a team to help people who are willing to give homes to monkeys in need: it would be like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition but for animals. Jungle Friends and other sanctuaries could provide the knowledge, companies could donate materials, trained experts could help with the permits and legal issues, then volunteers could come in and put up the habitats, fencing etc. We could create a network of mini sanctuaries who could help each other to help the monkeys.

In conclusion, if it had not been for Jungle Friends, my own sanctuary would not have opened. Their intern program, and the opportunity to work at Jungle Friends, gave me the knowledge and experience to run a capuchin rescue sanctuary. Perhaps even more importantly, the hands-on experience enabled me to be sure that sanctuary work was right for me. Even if many people do not follow through for one reason or another, it is far better that they make that decision BEFORE taking in animals that they cannot commit to caring for. The fact is that Jungle Friends does an incredible job of taking care of the monkeys, who always come first, and of teaching others what an animal sanctuary is really all about.

Jungle Friends Romance

Goober Meets Fiona
It was love at first sight for Fiona...she knew what she wanted and she wanted Goober!