It’s simply monkey business

The Islands newest wildlife attraction will shortly be opening its gates and what a treat they have install for us!  ‘Island Life’ was lucky enough to get a sneak preview…

I have to confess to having a fascination in anything animal, we all have favourites, but something a bit out of the ordinary is bound to attract? Working locally, I have heard the whooping chatter of the gibbons at the Islands own ‘Owl and Monkey Haven’ situated just outside Newport along Staplers Road. It’s a strange, but inviting call, not lasting long but proving that the monkeys and gibbons are well looked after and content with their new homes. Owner, Don Walser explains to me ‘they wouldn’t sing if they weren’t happy!’

Lets clear up any confusion – this isn’t a fancy zoo with grandeur claims of breeding programmes, it is a sanctuary for monkeys and owls, that have found themselves homeless, through a variety of reasons; zoos closing down, or needing space, (surplus to a breeding programme or because one of a pair has died), illegally imported or kept animals and unwanted pets. They are now ‘in safe hands’ as their slogan suggests.

Those safe hands are in fact Don Walser, his son Anthony and Don’s son-in-law David Wickes. And the animals they and their dedicated volunteers look after, currently 23 monkeys and gibbons, that include Muellers gibbons, Siamangs and a Mitred Leaf Eating Monkey, the only one in captivity outside Indonesia along with Snowy Owls, Eagle Owls, Barn Owls and Buzzards. Some may stay for only a short time, with the majority lucky enough to spend the rest of their lives here.

Don and Anthony have designed and built the haven themselves with expert help being given by SD Tanner (electrician), Paul Mcaire (planning consultant) and Lemon Plant Hire loaning machinery and groundworks, along with many other kind donations. They started five years ago and now feel the time is right to share their aspirations with the public. This is a fantastic opportunity to get very close to the monkeys, literally within a few feet, and to observe the stillness of the owls.

On offer is a Tea and Coffee Room with home-made cakes, Gift Shop, ‘Little Monkeys’ Play Area, lots of seating, a large car park and disabled access around the whole site.

Nearing completion is the Education Centre, which will be available for schools and clubs/organisations, enabling them to learn more about the animals, what they eat, why they groom, how they socialise and their conservation status.

The accommodation has received high praise from inspectors and has drawn envy from other keepers, because of its quality and ease of viewing. ‘Twycross Zoo’, which has the largest diverse monkey population in the world and ‘Howletts Wild Animal Park’ famous for their monkey population have both given the ‘Haven’ their approval, using the facilities to look after and house permanently, some of their monkeys – high praise indeed.

The reputation of the Haven is so strong that they have a waiting list for monkeys and gibbons. Building work is still going on and the guest list will continue to rise.

Who will be watching and scrutinising who, is any ones guess? The monkeys are playful and inquisitive, some showing off with others demanding attention. It’s difficult not to go away with a favourite or even twenty three favourites.

Although not large, the Haven has a wonderfully peaceful feel to it. Don, who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic has over thirty years experience keeping monkeys and owls, he is clearly dedicated to giving the inhabitants first class accommodation and this is rewarded by some very happy and content looking (and sounding) monkeys and gibbons.

Keep an eye out to see exactly when they plan to open and check out their website to find out more about the monkeys and opening times: www.owlandmonkeyhaven.co.uk

Know Before You Go

Siamang’s are the largest and darkest species of gibbon, they are slender with long arms and spend most of their time living in trees. They are lightweight, with a small round head. There arms are longer than their legs! And like all apes they have no tail. Their face is almost hairless, with a slight moustache and beard. They have very similar senses to us including hearing, coloured sight, smell, taste and touch. Their diet consist mainly of fruit but will also enjoy insects, spiders, birds eggs and small birds. All gibbons are an endangered species, due to their loss of habitat, Siamang’s coming from the rainforests in Malaysia and Sumatra.

Rhesus Macaques are more wide-spread, being found in many countries from Afghanistan and India to Thailand and China.  They have red faces and rears with brown fur. They eat roots, fruit, seeds and bark, and like gibbons will also enjoy insects and small animals. They are good swimmers and will live in troops normally of 10 to 50, but have been known to number two hundred. It was a Rhesus Macaques that beat humans into space!

Muellers Gibbons is found on the island of Borneo, in monsoon and tropical forests. They are monogamous with partners, the females tending to be more dominant over the males! They prefer to eat fruit with a high sugar content supplementing this with leaves and insects. Vocal communication between Muellers Gibbons is important as it helps to maintain the bond between the breeding pair.

Snowy Owls are large white owls with speckled black bars or spots, rounded heads, yellow eyes and a black bill sporting, feathered feet. They are active during the day, from dusk ‘til dawn spending most of their time on the ground, as in their native environment of the Artic or open grassland and fields there are no trees. Their diet is mostly fish, small hares, lemmings and voles. But being opportunists will prey on many other mammals and birds. In the wild they may live to nine or ten years, this rising to 35 years in captivity.

Barn Owls are the owl that most of us will see naturally in the wild. When sitting they have buff coloured back and wings, but in flight look almost pure white. Found all over the Island, flying soundlessly over fields, riverbanks and roadside verges. Sometimes seen in the day but more likely at dusk when they start to hunt, looking for, mice, voles and shrews.