With a three week gap in my schedule between arriving in Cape Town by boat and heading out to radio-collar Caracal in the Eastern Cape, I decided to volunteer at Monkeyland. What a great experience it has been working here and meeting people from all over the world. Not only are the tourists who visit very diverse, but the staff also represent some 10 African countries. Getting to know my fellow colleagues has been a real treat – listening to stories about their lives back home is fascinating. But the best part of working here, as you may have guessed, is working with all kinds of monkeys! What enthralling little buggers, I could easily spend an entire day watching one monkey and remain entertained the entire time. It’s amazing how intelligent these little guys are, and I think it is the humanness (which is actually a word) in them that make them so alluring. Almost like watching another person, or a child, these animals are capable of doing amazing feats. They will steal your keys and open locks, snatch something from your pocket without you ever knowing, and even grab cell phones that are lying around and put them to their ear, mimicking a human. But it is not only their intelligence that makes them such characters; it is the way they move, the way they look at you, the way you can almost understand what they are thinking…all very humanlike traits and that is why I can sit there and stare at one monkey for hours on end, studying it as if I were studying a fellow human. Unlike a cat or dog, monkeys also show a range of human-like facial expressions. It is easy to connect with them because they show emotions – you know when they are happy, sad, hungry, angry etc. simply because they behave the same way a human would.

These are things I’ve picked up over the past few weeks here, something I could never have really learned in a zoo where the animals are practically lifeless in boredom with the lives given to them. In our forest here the monkeys are all free roaming, so I often find myself wandering lost through the forest looking for one of the rare species, or simply following a group of individuals that have caught my eye. It’s quite an experience to see how these animals behave in the wild, and I am grateful for the time I have spent here to learn more about such fascinating creatures.

Feeding the squirrel monkeys in the forest

The entrance to Monkeyland

Black and white lemur, one of our laziest primates

Ring-tailed Lemur - the star of Madagascar

Posing for the camera, Capuchin monkey in front of a Gibbon

Nearby Monkeyland is another attraction called Birds of Eden, which is basically a giant aviary 12 hectares in size with over 300 species of birds inside, most of which were donated pets. Both companies are run by the same owners, so I have also been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time helping out with the birds. Watching parrots that have been caged up their entire lives fly free is very gratifying, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the different personalities of the different birds. For example, whenever Eric, one of the workers, goes in, one particular bird will always land on his shoulder. This bird will not land on anybody else, just Eric. Another parrot will sit on a branch above you and say ‘hello,’ then fly down to your shoulder where it says ‘what are you doing?’ Obviously something it learned from its previous owners. Another bird that is found in South Africa called a Dickop (translates to dumb-head) was trained to follow its owner around before coming to Birds of Eden. His name is Douglass and now that we have him, he simply follows anyone and everyone around the aviary. It’s quite funny to see this big, strange looking bird walk behind somebody the entire time they are inside…

Scarlet Ibis

Anyways, all in all it has been a great experience working at Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. I have learned a lot about the species we have, and have met a lot of great people along the way. So if anybody out there is ever in South Africa, I suggest you head down to Pletternberg bay where you can watch monkeys all day and see hundreds of species of cool birds!

There is also a cat rehabilitation center a few kilometers down the road from Monkeyland, so on my day off I walked down to have a look. They have about six different species of African cats, so it was neat to see all these amazing animals. And apparently cheetahs are as tame as house cats if raised from birth, and because I had worked with black-footed cats earlier, the keepers let me in to the cheetahs’ enclosure. It was a very humbling experience standing next to a 120 pound cat that could easily take my life, especially considering the number of times my cat at home ‘playfully’ scratches and bites me. Not only that, but I used to think my housecat would keep me up at night with its loud purr, but boy does listening to the purring of a cheetah put things into perspective. It’s almost like the dull muttering of a chainsaw, it’s incredibly loud! Fascinating….

My new buddy

A small corner of Birds of Eden just after putting out their morning breakfast