While lambs leap in the fields and chicks spread their wings for the first time, some unexpected newborns are making themselves at home in a Staffordshire woodland.
Staff at Monkey Forest, near Stoke-on-Trent, were taken by complete surprise with the births of not one, but two baby Barbary macaques on the same day.
“This is a lovely time of year for us” commented Primatologist and Monkey Forest Director, Sue Wiper. “We have several babies each year but to have two in one day is unusual and exciting. We celebrate every birth as a very positive step in our conservation programme for this endangered species.”
In their native Algeria and Morocco, Barbary macaque populations are falling. Along with the destruction of their natural habitats, shepherds and farmers regard them as pests. Within the fences of the 60-acre forest, 140 Barbary macaques roam free. There are no bars or cages, visitors can get within a metre of the animals.
“Behind bars they might not be exhibiting natural behaviour, they do at Monkey Forest,” the resident primatologist explains. “Are they happier? That would be anthropomorphising. Barbary macaques are adaptable. Behind bars they wouldn’t be able to explore their full behavioural repertoire.”
“Their natural habitat is being decimated. There is no predation. They live longer. They get fed. They are spoilt. This is the perfect scenario for these monkeys.”
The Staffordshire macaques were not taken from the wild. When the Monkey Forest opened in 2005 the new residents arrived from existing parks in France and Germany, which had already successfully re-introduced over 600 Barbary macaques into their natural habitat. Despite being many miles from Africa, the French and German groups have made this English forest their own.
“Our ethos is this is the monkeys home. We feel privileged they don’t mind us walking in and watching them. They are habituated to humans. They have seen more than 1 million people. They don’t fear us, they tolerate us. They get on with what they do. We are lucky enough to see them on a daily basis.”
The unexpected birth of the two babies on May 2, takes the captive-bred number at Trentham to 63 in 8 years. If you want to get a rare glimpse of the babies holding on to their mother’s tummies, and experience their first tentative steps at around 2-3 weeks old, Sue Wiper urges readers to visit Monkey Forest.
“I want visitors to go home with a message. I want them to learn new things about Barbary macaques. Kids will never forget that girl macaques have big bums and beards! After a few hours I want visitors to have new knowledge and respect for this endangered species.”
“Human genetic similarities make walking among and seeing the macaques easier to relate to. The human element is important. We are a primate species. This makes Monkey Forest special.”
For more information visit www.trentham-monkey-forest.com.
About the author
Dr Daniel Allen was an expert juror for ITV's British Animal Honours 2013. His first book, Otter (Reaktion Books, 2010), was described by Virginia McKenna OBE as 'the most brilliant mix of facts ancient and modern about the otter species'. Daniel has written for magazines such as The Field and is a regular columnist for Small Furry Pets and Practical Reptile Keeping. In 2006 he gained a PhD in Human Geography from the University of Nottingham, and went on to lecture at Keele University. More information about Daniel's expertise and availability can be found on his personal website www.drdanielallen.co.uk.