India, Monkey rescue center

From May 22nd to June 22nd, 2014

After three months away from India, we are back to Goa. The dry season comes to an end and tourists have deserted the area. Anyway, we are not here to enjoy the beach nor the beautiful weather, but to keep an eye on the monkey rescue center for which I was volunteer earlier this year. During the three months absence of the founders, we should be staying at the Tree House, surrounded by 5 dogs, 12 cats and 39 monkeys.

The week before we arrived, three langurs including the young Silva I was baby-sitting in January, died. The reason of death is not well defined, it could be a virus or an intoxication. This event has opened our eyes to what can happen, even in such a well protected place. We couldn't help thinking: "What if this had happened after the departure of John ...?"

As we arrived, on May 23rd, the monsoon had not yet begun. During ten days, we took notes of the different tasks of the center before the departure of Jo and John.

Just a few days after their departure, Baldrick, Manuel and Percy had a fight. Manuel ended up with a minor wound on the cheek while Percy had a deeper injury on his hand which required stitches. Baldrick has been contesting the authority in the Pen which we suspect is the reason for the attack, we guess that he attacked either Manuel or Percy and the second one came to rescue one another. Because the three monkeys are not being physically handled by the staff anymore, we had to catch Percy in a trap in order to bring him to the vet. While Percy was recovering in a separate pan, Manuel was left alone with Baldrick and after a successive fight, we had no other choice than isolating Baldrick from the group and letting Percy back in with Manuel while he recovers.


Papa, one of our resident cats developed an abscess which required a surgical intervention. A few teeth needed to be removed but after a couple of weeks of convalescence, he was happy to be loose with the eleven other cats at the Tree House.

Upon arrival at the airport, the footrest of a wheelchair hit Aless's ankle. It was just a minor cut. After a week swimming in the pool with monkeys, his foot doubled in volume and the wound became infected. A month later, five days of antibiotics and appropriate dressings, his foot is back to normal and the wound is healing.


We have been busy getting ready for the monsoon. Changing damaged roof panels, installing polyethylene sheets on the side of each pen, adding extra barrels where monkeys can rest and keep warm and dry away from the rain. We also had to change some damages tiles on the Tree House roof as the wild Langurs that visit the area have a tendency of breaking them.

From June 23rd to July 26th, 2014

Five employees manage the daily tasks of the center. Every morning all the cages are being cleaned, monkeys are being fed and some macaques are coming out on a long lead. This is the opportunity to climb trees, eat leaves or ants and listen to the sounds of nature. In the afternoon, it's time for the langur monkeys to get out. All pans are being cleaned again before the distribution of their second and last meal of the day. Tires, rops, fabrics, boxes, plastic bottles and children's toys are transformed into monkey toys and swings. To prevent monkeys getting bored, those are being changed at least once a week.

Twice a week, a trip to the garbage collecting point is made. The rubbish is mainly the cages cleaning waste, remains of fruits soaked in urine and fecal matter. After 15 minutes of shitty smell, we have to find our way through hills of garbage. The rain making it even more muddy and smelly, this is the last place where you want to get stuck.

Three mornings a week are dedicated to the food supply for the monkeys. Accompanied by a staff member, we tour the wholesale merchants to collect mature or partially damaged seasonal fruits. After the trays are filled, they are carried one by one to the van. To get some more specific fruits, we often have to dig into some rubbish baskets. The rest of the supplies are ordered from a wholesale dealer or purchased in the market. Back to the center, the food is sorted and washed.

Before we arrived, I was wondering if Dixie, the baby macaque I was baby-sitting earlier this year, would remember me. She snubbed me for about a week but soon became my friend again. From the moment she arrived in January, she was having a 24 hours care, spending nights in John's bedroom. Shortly before we arrived, she was introduced to a pan with Dennis, a young two years old bonnet macaque as well as Ruby and Laender, two adults macaques. Ruby soon became her adoptive mother, Dennis her best playmate and Lavender, more timid, become more interactive. Even though she is staying night and days with her new friends, she is still receiving extra attention and food.


While most of Goa was desperate for the monsoon to begin so their rice crops would not fail, the monkeys on the other hand were delighted that the month of June was, for the most part, rain free. It gave the monkeys an extra month of enjoying the sunshine and getting out climbing the canopies instead of hiding under them out of the rain.

A baby langur was handed over to us as her mother died after being hit by a car. At just a few months old, Nissa still requires 24 hour care. From the first day she arrived, she was very calm, confident and happy and unlike most babies was happy to stay with anyone rather than crying out for her only selected adoptive mother. She accepted to wear nappies, which as you can imagine is a great help when cuddling us at night. Despite the separation from her mother and this all new life, she is eating very well. It is not rare that after such an emotional shock, babies loose their appetite, letting themselves die. Over the first few days, she was bottle fed and introduced to greens and vegetables, with hibiscus flowers being her favorite. We progressively replaced the milk, which she wasn't fond of, with a baby-milk-cereal mix. Nissa is always curious about what we are eating and she will often taste items from our plate which she previously left aside which shows how baby monkeys learn from their mothers behavior.


As well as a baby langur we also received Raja, a 25 years old Bonnet macaque that had spent his life in a cage which was far too small for him. The forestry department asked if we could offer him a better and bigger place for the last few years he has left to live. Even though space is getting very limited at The Tree House, some space was made available for Raja. As a temporary measure he is staying in the lower section of Nora and Kia's pen while another pen is being remodeled to house him.

We were delighted by the visit of two Great Hornbill birds which checked out the bird house on our banyan tree. These majestic bird looks like a huge toucan with a golden helmet. They are spectacular to watch.


From July 27th to September 18th, 2014

Two tiny baby squirrels were found on a concrete floor with no mum to be seen. When brought to us, Tic & Tac still had closed eyes and spent days sleeping against one another on a warm pillow. Since then, they opened their eyes and discovered who was delicately touching them while being bottle fed, that was Nissa making new friends.

Talking about friends, Nissa was introduced to Dixie, who is being very tender, acting as a protective older sister, telling the dogs off when her friend get scared. Nissa is slowly being introduced to the young langur troupe. Ella (a young femal), is always very excited to see Nissa, but for now, she is being too brutal to let them play together. However, Foster (young male), of a more timid character, has opened up his heart to Nissa, giving her nice long cuddle.


We adopted an abandoned kitten found in the Mapusa market. In order to get him used to human and animal contact, he spent quite some time together with Nissa in our bedroom. Bunty (one of the center's dogs) saw this as an opportunity to make a new friend and insisted in coming in the bedroom to play with the kitten. The way Nissa was looking at them, I could tell she was very envious of their beautiful interaction. Every day she got a little closer and started teasing them and running away. It didn't take long for them to become amazing friends. They can spend hours running after one another. Of course Nissa knows she has the great advantage of climbing up her hanging toys and is always using it to get out of reach.

How could I ever have imagined sharing my bedroom with a dog which pretends being the kitten baby-sitter, a kitten playing like a monkey, a monkey thinking she is the elder sister of the two squirrels. It is so amazing to see them all play together like if they were from the same species.


On a rainy evening, we were informed that an injured langur was laying on the side of the road in the village. As we arrived, it appeared that he probably got electrocuted on the electrical line and fell to the ground after the shock. The poor monkey was fully paralyzed and could just barely move his head. Sadly, he didn't make it through the night.

A few weeks later, the forestry department brought us another young langur which required surgery for a deep wound on her thigh. Nobody can tell us where she was found or how she sustained the injury, but by the way she is behaving, there is very little chance she was a wild monkey as seems at ease with staff and volunteers.


Four months has gone since we arrived at the Tree House and our experience has come to an end. The owners are back, ready to take over. One should definitely have experienced taking the ownership of this place to realize the personal investment and energy that implies. What we have lived for the last four months has been Jo and John everyday life for the last 9 years. There is always an animal to care for, things to fix, solutions to find. You end up devoting your entire life to it.

The arrival of Nissa was definitely the highlight of the experience. I never imagined I would experience such complicity with a monkey. We accompanied her 24 hours during two and a half months. She slept on our chests, over our heads, in our necks. We changed a lot of nappies, cleaned a lot of pee and pooh. She pulled our hair and gave us lots of slaps. She made us laugh, laugh a lot. Without saying a world, we speak the same language, she knows what she wants and how to express it. After being so close, it's hard to imagine that in a few years, her wild instinct will take over and no-one will be able to approach her, not even the person who has mothered and accompanied her during his first years.

Thank you Jo and John for this amazing experience. Thank you for trusting us in the care of your house with 42 monkeys, 5 dogs and 13 cats.

Have a look at "The Primate Trust" website

Click here to read the following story about my journey through northern Laos.

See the album "India, Monkey rescue center - June-September 2014"