Monkey Stories


Juas came to the Sanctuary from a government laboratory in June of 1997. When the lab manager told us the laboratory was closing, we thought, this is an emergency, the whole colony is going to be dispersed; we'd better accommodate as many as we can before the facility closes down. The last group arrived in the flurry of the rescue effort to take as many of the Cotton top tamarins as we could. They were identified by numbers. We named them Juas, Echo, Nathaniel and Kokopele.

When they arrived, they were in a state of terror. Echo's face was bleeding. Her lip was torn. I don't know how to describe it. They were the most stressed out monkeys we'd ever seen. Each one of them had a strange quality. Echo had a dull stare and missing fingers and Juas showed extreme anger and Nathaniel was dying right in front of us. There is a silence that comes over you when you care for animals in this condition. Sometimes it's too overwhelming to read things accurately.

At first Juas wouldn't come out of his sleeping box. When we tried to rouse him he shrieked at us and was extremely agitated. He presented himself as very aggressive, with a frightening, in your face, personality. So I named him for a Brazilian street fighter, "Juas, King of the Streets". We thought he was very combative. We read it wrong.

It was only when we noticed that Juas had no toes on his right foot that we understood he was really terrified rather than angry. Suddenly my heart softened towards Juas. I realized it wasn't aggression, it was fear and a desire to protect himself because he was extremely vulnerable and severely traumatized.

The laboratory cages they had lived in their whole lives were tiny, double cages stacked one on top of the other. Many of the animals that come from such research labs are missing fingers and toes. When I saw Juas' foot I realized what was happening. He is like a veteran of a war. You can feel how much he's been through. We were very, very gentle to him.

After he seemed more settled, we moved him into a large enclosure with Trista, a female who had come from another laboratory a few years before. He was amazed and I think totally thrilled by his new world. It took time for the muscles in his legs to get strong and he was at a disadvantage with his toeless foot in the big space. At first he would go around the perimeter on the two by fours. He wasn't able to make big leaps, but he didn't fall. We want to see the monkeys leaping from branch to branch. The ones who are born here move like that.

At first we wondered if he could let his guard down enough bond with a female. Trista is a very fragile individual. He was not demonstrative and it seemed he'd been injured so deeply that he didn't have enough emotional reserves to nurture and care about her.

After three years a healing has happened here, and Juas has become a wonderful mate to Trista. He has fathered two daughters, Nadine and Carmen, and now carries his new baby. When we enter their enclosure he is very protective of his family. He doesn't scream anymore but looks into our eyes with the question- are you going to hurt me? I think he knows we understand what he's been through and care about him with all our hearts. Juas and Trista and their family now live in their own green jungle world at our new facility and we watch him leap from branch to branch.


The monkeys were shipped from a research facility. One of the tamarins was down. And when we say down it’s like a big iron bell ringing- that word down, because it’s very rare that they get back up again. There’s a gripping claw in my stomach. There’s a limited amount of time that you have to work with and everything is now in crisis mode.

When we took him out of the carrier he came in, he didn’t move, he just stayed in a ball of pain. And he was urinating blood.

He didn’t have a name. He just had a number tattooed on his body, which many of them have. They have a green number, not unlike the terrible colored number that the concentration camp survivors have on their forearms. Sometimes they’re tattooed across their stomachs, and in the case of a pregnant female, as the belly gets larger and larger, so does this green number. It’s a clear indication that where they have come from they are considered a number, a commodity and not a living thing. Sometimes they have a necklace that looks like the pull chain on a bulb. It has a numbered red disk hanging from it. One marmoset came wearing a disk numbered 242. I keep it on my desk so I remember 241, all the ones that aren’t here at the Sanctuary. We got number 242. That meant there were 241 of her kind that aren’t here, and we don’t know where they are.

And we don’t know all of the others, the thousands, what became of them either. It keeps me remembering that we only have a small portion of this enormous population that’s considered something to be used like you would a test tube or a syringe or an inanimate object. It’s clearly not the animals’ needs being addressed in these environments.

And that’s the shift that we need to make now. Not thinking how they can be used but what we can do to accommodate them so they can survive. In the industrial world we look at everything from the perspective of how we can use it. Even other human beings— how can we use them, how can we manipulate them, how can we get more for less, how can we get ahead in this deal?

The laboratory is a throwaway world for monkeys. When they are no longer of use they’re discarded, euthanized… and in this case passed on to us, at the end of his usefulness. It’s almost as if this little tamarin had been scraped up from the floor of his cage with a spatula; he wasn’t even moving.

I took him in my hands. It is so tragic when they come in a ball of pain. Clearly he wouldn't even have a chance to be cared for, to claim even a portion of his birthright. Here he had made it all the way from this research lab after many months of negotiations to get him out, the paperwork required by the State, and the cost of the shipping. We even had to send the shipping crates to the lab because they didn’t want to build anything. They didn’t want to pay for anything; they just wanted him out of there. He was of no use to them anymore.

It’s an exciting day: they’re coming. Now we get a chance to do the work that leads to healing. He can’t even accept it; he can’t eat; he can’t stand. Immediately I named him- Aeneaus, the traveler from far away.

I took him outside and his black luminous eyes blinked at the natural light as if it was too much. I showed him the sky and the green things that are alive here and the blooming things and the dog that came up to greet us. I brought him up to the house and one by one I introduced him to my family. Quickly, so he could take as much in as possible in the few hours he had left.

Our daughter said: "Oh Mama, he hurts, he’s in a knot." We sat down on the couch together and both began giving him a massage. We just sat there and talked and sang and tried to uncurl him out of his agony. After about a half an hour his body began to uncurl in our hands. He was the most beautiful being you can imagine. He was completely black like a seal with coal black fur and a white mask around his mouth with round cheeks. He had the look of a bear, but he was such a wee thing, fitting into a cupped hand.

I tried to feed him mashed bananas. He had a hard time eating. Once they’re down, food is not of interest. We got some fluid in him. We kept him close to our bodies because he was so cold, carried him next to our hearts. Every few hours I tried to hydrate him. He was having a hard time; he was having spasms of pain in his gut. It was exhausting for him.

And then he passed with a shudder on my body.

The autopsy revealed he died from liver flukes that, without treatment, had calcified over years of neglect.


Tank, a Black Tufted-eared marmoset, came from a university medical center which was closed down by the United States Department of Agriculture for violations of basic federal animal care regulations.

He arrived at Pacific Primate Sanctuary on 6/12/96, barely alive, in a fouled carrier. When we receive an animal in that condition, we feel he's held on and has finally arrived, just let us have a chance to give back something to him. Let him have food that was grown for him. Let him see the stars. Let him see the sun come up.

He looked like an old man who hadn't had a chance to thrive; he'd been knocked around a lot. His teeth were in terrible condition and sticking out. We think he had been "warehoused" as a solitary animal in a windowless laboratory.

Eventually Tank joined Florence, who had been sent to the Sanctuary when U.S. agents confiscated her from a smuggler. He seemed so grateful to have this beautiful woman for his companion. He delighted in being a partner in a relationship, grooming and protecting her.

Then Florence gave birth to a son, Abraham. And Tank was in seventh heaven. They raised the baby together. Tank carried him most of the time and did most of the caretaking. Florence got pregnant immediately after the birth of Abraham and the twins: Chloe and Cordelia were delivered by Caesarian - a first for our amazing vet and his assistant.

After Florence's incision healed we put her in with Tank and Abraham, they were really wanting to see her. Tank took both of the babies the next day. He was so splendid.

It was as if he knew he only had a short time to create his family, to enjoy love so late in life. This year they had baby Solomon. Tank was growing weaker, but he still carried the newborn and parented the others as best he could.

Tank died on 6/13/99. The volunteers were crying. He was such a fine gentleman, such a good old man. We all really loved him. He was solid. He'd been through it all and had made it here. He cared for his babies, his mate, who is much too intelligent and much too clever for him. But he was there for her and she was there for him. It was a loving relationship. We had three years to give him back his birthright, his life. We've enjoyed it so much, watching him become whole here. We're just so glad we got to be part of it for him. We see him in his children's eyes.


Tybalt was an endangered Cotton-top Tamarin (Saguinas oedipus) from a government subsidized research facility at a prestigious university on the East Coast. We named him “Tybalt” for the character in “Romeo and Juliet”— a sword fighter who always instigates brawls in the street with little cause. This monkey displayed many of those qualities. He was highly aggressive and a little irrational. We couldn’t understand where he was coming from, couldn’t read him. He arrived with a group of animals, all in various stages of disfigurement and dysfunction. Tybalt had no tail, so he couldn’t jump. (The tail acts as a counter balance; without a tail he would have plummeted in any long leap attempts). He certainly wouldn’t have lasted long in the wild.

Tybalt was extremely violent and would attack with unusual ferocity at the slightest provocation. Soon he began exhibiting odd neurological symptoms— tremors and spasms. He was eventually diagnosed as having a brain disease. As the illness progressed, he became less and less aggressive—ultimately becoming very frightened and fragile. A hand coming at him would terrify him— he would cry out. He had no spatial orientation: when we lifted him, he would splay his arms out like an infant, as if he was falling.

As his health deteriorated, we spent at least two hours a day caring for him and making him comfortable. It was labor-intensive: he had to be spoon-fed; his food had to be mashed; he had to be sponge-bathed and dried; his bedding needed changing several times a day. He couldn’t switch his position so he had to be rotated and moved often. We did this every day for months. He was taken outside each afternoon to get sunlight on his body. We carried him in to be with Delores, his mate of many years, so his emotional life was still addressed. Our windsurfing volunteer gave him a massage every Friday. Everybody who cared for the monkeys here was moved by his plight.

In Tybalt’s last few days, one of the volunteers said, “I think he needs to say goodbye to Delores.” So we prepared a carrier, padded it with a blanket, put food and water in it, and carried him in to the big habitat where Delores was, resting it on a stool. She immediately went inside his cage and laid down next to him. She stayed with him all day long in his little cage. At night when she went into her sleeping house, we put him in his indoor enclosure wrapped up in blankets. She was in an outside habitat, so he would have been exposed to the wind and rain at night. We brought him to her like this for three days, and on the third day he died.

My first thought was that he’d had the luxury of dying at his own pace. Nobody pulled the plug on him; nobody neglected his needs. All the caretakers at the Sanctuary spent the extra hours needed to keep him fed and clean as long as he wanted to eat and as long as he wanted to be here. And when he left, he left with a big fat round belly and with clean, shining fur. We all deserve that luxury—to die at our own pace, in our own home, with our loved ones. Perhaps being allowed to live our lives to fullest right up to the end enables us to pass on in peace.

During his illness, he was like a great angry warrior being brought down. One still must honor the warrior even in his dependence. His current reality was one of terrible weakness. When we looked at his suffering, we realized we were seeing the soft belly of the dragon. We were still afraid of him, but it was his shadow image that made us afraid. He had been so very angry, fearful and aggressive— yet he spent his last months so vulnerable, dependent, and trusting.

The way he looked into our eyes showed us he understood the spirit of our intentions. He relinquished his anger. His total turnaround in being dependent was very moving. It was a privilege that he would surrender to us— imagining the amount of pain he must have once suffered at human hands to get that enraged. We returned his faith in us with our full hearts.

There was a lesson in this experience. Having compassion for the bully was the teaching to us from Tybalt, and witnessing the transformation of his rage to trust. We must see what’s hidden and stay open to the totality of every being—and not be fooled. To recognize the fragility and the neediness of a bully allows you to include them in your sphere of compassion. Everybody was somebody’s child, and we’re all children of one creation.

Brenda and Charlotte

Prior to coming to the Sanctuary, Intern Alli gained experience with marmosets by working as a caretaker in a lab. She then came to PPS as a resident Intern. Through this experience of working with the same species in opposing settings, Alli had a very unique perspective. She was able to share this perspective with us in the following, very moving, essay.

A Tale of Two Monkeys: Brenda and Charlotte

By Allison Gabrielson, Pacific Primate Sanctuary Intern 1/31/10

Anyone who has walked the corridor at Pacific Primate Sanctuary has known and loved Brenda. She is a 15-year-old female White tufted ear marmoset with a sweet demeanor, a love for the outdoors, and her devoted mate named Bruno (a once solitary male who she helped socialize). She is the oldest female monkey in the corridor, although her activity level would tell you otherwise, and she spends as much time outside with Bruno as possible. As well as we all know Brenda here at PPS, many people don’t know that she was born CJ0396 at a large, well-known national research facility in the Midwest. Why she was lucky enough to be sent to Pacific Primate Sanctuary at 6 months old is unknown. Up until January of 2009, she had lived a parallel, but completely opposite life to another female marmoset born in the same year at the same research facility.

CJ0130, or Charlotte as her caregivers knew her, was nearly 15-years-old already when I first met her while working at the lab. She stuck out like a sore thumb in a room of 20 marmosets because of her missing ear tuft, her calm manner, and her sweet face. She was a favorite among the animal techs and vet staff alike because she had out-lived almost all of the monkeys born within 5 years of her. She had been through countless studies, behavioral and invasive, and had managed to survive to old age (despite the missing ear tuft). Grapes were her favorite fruit, since they were easy to juice with her uneven teeth, and I would often sneak her and her partner an extra grape at snack whenever I could. And I was there that day in January when she was anesthetized and brought to the necropsy room to be euthanized because her weight had dropped below 300 grams. It will remain a mystery how two monkeys born in the same year at the same national research facility could live out two completely different lives nearly 6,000 miles apart, however they didn’t have to be so different. While an animal’s life in a research laboratory versus a sanctuary is fundamentally different because the purpose, goals, and objectives of the two institutions are diametrically opposed- an animal’s life in a lab can be greatly enhanced by making small changes in daily care.

In a Biomedical Research Facility, the main goal of colony management is to provide the ideal research subject to potential researchers. The mental health of the subject is not necessarily always a factor as long as they are physically “healthy”. The more “healthy” subjects a facility can provide, the more researchers they will attract and therefore, the more money they can bring in. It is for this reason that White tufted ear marmosets, at a large lab in the Midwest, are kept in small metal portables lining every room. Within each portable is a metal carrier and two wooden dowels used as perches. Enrichment is given once a week in the form of treats hidden in plastic toys, frozen cubes, or cereal stuck in toilet paper rolls. Because of the smaller size of the enclosures, adolescent monkeys are pulled from family groups in order to make room for newer siblings. And finally, because a colony must be cared for as a whole using “herd health”, marmosets at this particular lab are euthanized when their weight drops below 300 grams. These types of policies allow a research facility to operate with maximum output (more monkeys) with minimal cost (smaller housing, and little daily enrichment). These facilities operate in this way because their definition of “humane” colony management is based on and serves their goals and financial objectives.

Charlotte’s life and death were a result of this distorted philosophy. I remember about a month before Charlotte was euthanized I was sitting with the Associate Director of Veterinary Services, who was inquiring about my upcoming internship at PPS. I told him how excited I was and I asked him if there was any way that I could take Charlotte with me, since she was no longer considered an ideal candidate for research. He laughed the question off and said there was no way a monkey her age would ever manage the trip successfully. A month later, I sat in an anteroom and watched as Charlotte went to sleep for the last time. I couldn’t help but wonder, if Charlotte had made it to the sanctuary and only lived one day in a lush green enclosure, wouldn’t that have been better than bleeding out in the necropsy room of a research facility? And more so, how would it have been a loss to the research facility?

In a sanctuary setting, like that at Pacific Primate Sanctuary, the main goal is rehabilitation and restoration of the monkeys’ birthright. Monkeys are provided food, shelter, and enrichment by volunteers, but are otherwise “free” to do what monkeys should do. They spend their days foraging in their jungle enclosures, grooming family members and partners, basking in the sunlight, and playing in their natural worlds. Monkeys at Pacific Primate Sanctuary always have access to browse or greenery in which to manipulate, tear, rip apart, and play with. In fact an adolescent male was once observed using a large green leaf as a trampoline, bouncing from the leaf to a branch above. Most importantly, monkeys at Pacific Primate Sanctuary are given individualized care addressing each of the monkey’s needs. They are not euthanized when their weight drops. In fact, there are a handful of White tufted ear marmosets (mostly females) at Pacific Primate Sanctuary who have lived almost their entire lives weighing less than 300 grams and are healthy and active- Brenda being one of them.

Brenda arrived at Pacific Primate Sanctuary on March 29, 1995 along with six other White tufted ear marmosets from the same research facility. She adjusted extremely quickly to sanctuary living, having been sent at a young age. She was paired with Bruno, a lone male sent from a different research facility, who was un-socialized and didn’t share food well. With Brenda’s patience and a caregiver’s gentle 3-month conditioning, Bruno soon became an ideal mate. (This time consuming endeavor might not be pursued in the laboratory and he would live a solitary existence.) While he is still enthusiastic about his food, he no longer hoards or monopolizes the food bowls. He now loves to groom and play-wrestle with Brenda and they are rarely seen apart. Brenda has had two serious health issues that have resulted in her having to be to be moved from her enclosure into the infirmary for intensive, personalized care. This occurred once in December of 2004, when she was treated for a GI issue, and again this year when we found she had tooth infections. Both times she was cared for until she was well again and returned to Bruno as good as new. Even though she has lived almost her entire life weighing less than 300 grams, her weight is still monitored very closely and she is given extras (avocado, sweet potato, Nutrical, oatmeal, etc.) in her breakfast daily to keep her calorie intake high. This type of specialized care is one of the main reasons she has lived such a long, high quality life. If Brenda were living in a research laboratory, she would have been euthanized years ago.

Because of the fundamental differences between a biomedical research facility and a sanctuary, the lives of the monkeys housed in each could never be the same. However, there can be vast improvements in the living situation of those housed in research facilities that could even be cost effective to the labs. First, implementing weekly environmental enrichment in the form of natural greenery, in Hawaii we use Ti leaves, palm leaves, hibiscus flowers, etc., can elicit more natural behaviors and has also been found to be a way for the monkeys to relieve stress. It can be difficult to understand just how enriching foliage can be until you’ve watched a monkey tear it apart/carry it around/manipulate it for the first time. The cost of this type of enrichment could be kept down by making a partnership with a university greenhouse.

Another beneficial practice would be allowing the monkeys to live with their natural families for a longer period of time. While I recognize that there are limits to how many monkeys can live in a small laboratory enclosure at once, I have also seen first hand the benefit of allowing offspring to help rear their younger siblings. The first set of marmoset babies born while I was at the research facility died within two days of each other because the mother had never reared infants before (siblings or her own). Having experienced mothers and fathers would decrease the amount of infant mortality in a laboratory setting.

Finally, implementing a more tailored herd health practice (rather than just euthanizing all monkeys at a set weight) would allow for a more diverse and less homogeneous colony of primates. Dr. Cathy Johnson-Delaney, President of the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, established an alternative policy for a lab colony that catered more to each individual marmoset’s weight. Extreme illness was defined as a monkey losing 15-20% of their adult body weight. This way, monkeys who usually balance around 300 grams are not euthanized because they lost 10 grams (which would only be 3% of their adult body weight, but would make them eligible for euthanization at the Midwest lab.) Another option would be sending those monkeys considered less ideal for experimentation (i.e. under 300 grams) to sanctuaries where they can have more personalized care. The research industry might also consider that euthanizing a monkey in a lab setting can be extremely costly. There is the cost of drugs to first sedate a primate, then the cost of the personnel to perform the necropsy and necropsy report, then the cost of blood tests and tissue tests (depending on why the monkey needed euthanasia), and finally the monkey must be properly disposed of. These are all costs that could be avoided if the euthanasia is deemed unnecessary in the first place.

It is my personal hope that one day primate research will be a thing of the past and will soon be considered an UNnecessary evil. That day, unfortunately, is not today. So instead we need to cooperatively work towards improving the lives of those still living in a world of metal bars and constant fear. I am extremely thankful for each and every monkey that Pacific Primate Sanctuary has been able to save over the past 30 years, however, I am constantly thinking about the hundreds of thousands of primates still living compromised lives in biomedical research facilities across the world. We need to once again expand our philosophies, but this time to accommodate a species other than our own. In fact, Dr. Jane Goodall considers this the next step in human evolution. She writes:

"If only we can overcome cruelty, to human and animal, with love and compassion we shall stand at the threshold of a new era in human moral and spiritual evolution and realize, at last, our most unique quality: humanity."

A marmoset in a research laboratory

Brenda in her outdoor enclosure at PPS