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Monkey Town

Imagine a wildlife primate centre where humans are caged and primates are free to roam. That’s what you’ll experience when you visit Monkey Town in South Africa. This unique experience to get up close and personal with monkeys and apes is not something that you’ll experience often.

Monkey Town is the creation of Roseline Grobler, Rene’s mother-in-law. Since founding it in December, 2000, it’s grown to house approximately 250 monkeys and apes from 28 different species. Lemurs, endemic to Madagascar also live here. There are approximately 300 other animals, ranging from miniature donkeys, alpacas, koi fish, a variety of birds, antelope, meerkats, tortoises, and goats.


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Malaika (Angel in Swahili) A Red Faced Spider Monkey

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Tammy, one of the chimpanzee sisters. Loves to clown.


There isn’t a specific course in South Africa to care for monkeys. It comes from doing the job and learning from people who have done it before. Roseline has over 30 years of experience caring for primates and has dedicated her life to them.

Poen Grobler, Roseline’s husband, came up with the design for monkeys to be free roaming and the visitors to walk in a cage. Thus, a large section of the park is an open enclosure with tunnels running through it for the public to walk through. Eighty monkeys from six species live here together and get along well, most of the time. There’s usually one troublemaker. Monkeys are right next to you, on top of you, and all around you. The rest of the monkeys that cannot live in this space are in enclosures with monkeys of their own kind.

Mentored by Roseline, Melissa Grobler is married to her son, also named Rene. She’s the only person hand-rearing monkeys injured or rejected by their moms. “It’s much like looking after a child,” she says. “They have the same basic needs. A healthy diet, sufficient shelter, enrichment, and good health.”


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Collage of Morgan the Chacma Baboon as an infant


Under no circumstances are visitors allowed to touch or feed the monkeys from this enclosure. Melissa explains, “This is for the safety of the visitor as well as the monkey. Monkeys can get the same diseases as humans, from the common cold, to TB. For the visitors, a monkey cannot harm you if you do not put your finger through the fence.”

Visitors can, however, spend about 15 minutes with monkeys in a separate enclosure under the strict supervision of a tour guide. This is usually the highlight of the park, together with the chimpanzees’ lunch time feeding. Monkey Town’s chimps are very interactive with the public and visitors love them.

Resident animals at Monkey Town arrive through various channels. Some have tragic backgrounds. Many are products of a lucrative business breeding them for pets. Monkeys can live from 12 to more than 40 years. As the monkey grows past the cute baby stage, it begins biting and scent marking. Many arrive after people lose the ability or interest in continuing their care. Others were born in captivity and acquired from other zoos. And then there are those who are born at Monkey Town and spend their entire lives here.


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Twinkle—a Common Marmoset


Two of five species of South Africa’s indigenous monkeys live at the centre—a vervet monkey and two chacma baboons. “The vervet monkey was rescued by the South African Police Services’ Dog Unit in our local town. She has been introduced to other vervet monkeys, only to reject them,” says Melissa.

The baboons, considered nuisance animals, would likely have been euthanized had the local Nature Conservation employees not brought them to Monkey Town.

The first, Jack, was found two hours away when an observant and inquisitive woman saw someone dragging a bag along the road. Inside, was an infant baboon, tied up. The mom had been shot and the baby taken away to be used as bait in illegal dog fights. “He was so traumatized when he arrived four years ago,” says Melissa, “because his feet were tied up for the first couple of weeks of his life. He still has a personal issue with his feet.”

Morgan was found in the mountains alone, just over a week old, injured and weak. Most likely an eagle caught him and dropped him when he was too heavy to carry. Melissa, who lives on the premises, kept him in her bed for 10 months until he was big enough to live in an outside enclosure.

Residents at the centre range from very small to very big. A pygmy marmoset, the smallest monkey in the world, weighs around 140 grams when fully grown.

On the other end of the scale are three chimpanzee half-sisters (apes not monkeys)—Ruby, Tammy, and Sunny—born in a local zoo from the same mother and three different fathers.


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Black and White Ruffed Lemur


Every year, students from more than 200 schools, ranging in age from 2 years to mid-teens, visit Monkey Town. Tour guides provide relevant age-appropriate education. One of the main issues discussed on their tours is why monkeys should not be a pet.

Monkey town is open 365 days a year and employs 25 permanent employees. Funds for caring for the animals and operating the centre come solely from visitors.

Monkey Town does not sell monkeys to the public. They only sell or exchange monkeys with other registered zoos in the country or overseas.

Visit Monkey Town during Renedian’s Spectacular South West Africa, Victoria Falls to Cape Town, and Garden Route tours.


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Spike and his wife Chanel—White Handed Gibbons


Photo Credits: Monkey Town