It’s Monkey Business

The Ballito MagazineAugust 8, 2023

I remember as a kid, my brother and I would watch something like Animal Planet because it was interesting to see different animals in their natural habitat. I realised later that I’m not too fond of seeing animals in unnatural environments. But recently, I visited somewhere completely different and felt a passion for this sanctuary.


Monkeyland KZN is the second free-roaming, multi-species primate sanctuary in South Africa. The first opened in 1995 in Plettenberg Bay, and there are also two other sanctuaries, Birds of Eden and Jukani. Did you know that all these sanctuaries are SAASA award winners? The two amazing people behind creating these safe spaces are Tony and Lara, who love wildlife and protecting and rescuing animals to bring back their natural instincts. When I spoke to Lara, her journey and story into the primate sanctuary project all started with Tony, who gave her a primate book in 1985, and ten years later, the first Monkeyland was formed.


Tony had spent seven years doing overland safaris, which created a bigger spark to help animals. He did mention that the first Monkeyland had a hiccup as they didn’t think about the monkeys’ breeding. In the KwaZulu-Natal branch, all male monkeys were neutered to ensure they don’t reproduce any bad genes and also help with curbing overpopulation. Tony and Lara’s innovation doesn’t stop there. They have fought for the legalisation of monkeys “owning” their land with the help of people who can buy a square-metre section of the forest for a monkey.


The morning tour started at the main building, which, if anyone “old” enough would remember, is where the French Polo Club used to be. This is where the reception and pizzeria are, plus the cutest gift shop filled with different stuffed monkeys you can get in memory of your experience. Like most sanctuaries, maintenance costs are exponential, but at Monkeyland KZN, ticket sales and anything bought at the gift shop and pizzeria go towards the costs and maintenance, and they accept donations. It’s more about the monkeys’ health and safety than making a profit.


We were taken on a short drive in a safari vehicle to the 23-hectare hidden forest that is home to eight different species with a total of 120 primates! The forest seemed never-ending, and it didn’t feel like you were in an enclosed space at all. The first primates that we met were, in fact, not monkeys. Gibbons are apes, and the best way to identify an ape is that they don’t have tails, but also they walk on two legs like us humans. This brother and sister have the cutest sibling bond. These primates live a free life with many feeding stations dotted around since they don’t know how to scavenge for their food. These feeding stations help, but they always get moved around, so the primates would have to search for the food anyway and not get used to it being in one specific area. Our guide was very informative and had excellent knowledge, not just about Monkeyland but about many other things and would ask us random trivia questions. One was: what animal has three hearts? An octopus! I know, fascinating!


Our next sighting was a troop of ring-tailed lemurs taking a morning nap in the trees. We then met a hooded capuchin. All | could think about was Dexter from Night at the Museum. We walked further into the forest, where a very chatty white-headed capuchin greeted us. We later spotted a howler monkey enjoying some food at one of the feeding stations. It howls, therefore its name. While admiring him, one of the guests saw a spider monkey perched on a low branch right behind us!


On our way back, we found a ruffed lemur. It’s fluffy! Although we didn’t see all eight primates, as the squirrel monkey is very small and hard to spot, we still got to see many others. We reached the entrance when we noticed all the ring-tailed lemurs had descended from the trees for lunchtime. The guide didn’t warn me about them as they like to follow you and zip between your legs, so I suffered a mini heartache when I looked behind me to find one right by my legs.


Overall, it was an eye-opening experience and an enjoyable morning activity that the whole family could enjoy. We returned to the reception and had to try their homemade pizza – wow, we were not disappointed. If this festive season you want to contribute to a good cause and enjoy a family activity, then Monkeyland KZN is the place for you.


Words by Kai Coates