Wooster: Alex, Jake and Gizmo have worked for more than 30 years. Now they’re heading to Florida for retirement.
The College of Wooster is retiring its last three capuchin — pronounced ca-PU-chin — monkeys this month to the nonprofit Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainesville.
The Wooster monkeys will join about 200 other New World monkeys that have been surrendered or abandoned as pets or that have been released from research laboratories.
“This is what I could have dreamed for them,” said Claudia Thompson, the psychology professor who started Wooster’s monkey colony.
Thompson happened on monkey research by accident.
She came to the private Ohio college three decades ago after a stint in corporate research — with humans — and a plan to do research with rats or birds.
But a lab in Chicago was closing its 45-monkey colony and offered small groups of the animals to young researchers just getting started.
Thompson, a psychologist interested in noninvasive studies of animal intelligence and behavior, took the lab up on its offer, driving to Chicago with a student to “adopt” the first members of Wooster’s monkey colony.
That was about 20 monkeys ago. While the original inhabitants have long since passed on, Thompson and about 100 students a year have conducted dozens of experiments about how the monkeys handle tools, work together and make decisions.
They work with the monkeys in their “home” — a basement room with two windows to the outside; a web of chains on which to climb; toys that include a child’s plastic dump truck and a ball; and a “penthouse” atop the entrance to their quarters.
A one-way mirror provides researchers with an easy way to observe them. The monkeys are receptive to people they know coming into their habitat, although they are far from tame.
But they are getting on in years — each is about 30 — and Alex and Gizmo have diabetes.
“If I waited too much longer, it would be too difficult for them to make the trip to Florida,” Thompson said of the timing for shutting down the program.
So Thompson appealed to Jungle Friends, which specializes in the care of monkeys with special needs, such as blindness or chronic diarrhea. The nonprofit agreed to take over their care in mid-July.
That will be a sea change for Alex, the dominant monkey, and Jake and Gizmo, who, despite their names, are female.
For the first time, they will be living in an outdoor habitat with grass and mulch to encourage foraging, and trees, as well as plants, shrubs and bamboo for additional food and enrichment. According to Jungle Friends: “There are no concrete floors, no tile walls, and the only bars are for climbing on.”
It also will be something of a family reunion.
Two years ago, Wooster released two of Alex’s sons, Pip and Zeke, to Jungle Friends, so father and sons will be reuniting, at first in neighboring areas to see how they acclimate, said Jungle Friends’ founder and executive director, Kari Bagnall.
The Wooster monkeys will join an ever-growing population of New World monkeys at Jungle Friends. Many of them retired from research, and more are seeking placement all the time.
The University of Georgia, for example, is giving up seven monkeys and getting out of the business. It is donating $25,000 and all of its equipment, which includes $90,000 worth of caging, to care for the animals, Bagnall said.
An Ivy League university — Bagnall declined to provides the name, at the institution’s request — has purchased 20 acres, built habitats and provided donations for the lifetime care of the 100 cotton-top tamarins it’s turning over to Jungle Friends.
Those kinds of donations are essential, Bagnall said, as care for a monkey totals about $1,100 a month. Monkeys can live about 45 years in captivity, meaning the Wooster monkeys have a life expectancy of about 15 more years each.
As for the College of Wooster, it said it will be making a yet-undetermined “gift in kind” to support its monkeys’ retirements and has mounted a campaign to support the animals’ care.
To donate to the care of the Wooster monkeys or other inhabitants at Jungle Friends, call 386-462-7779, email email@example.com or go to www.JungleFriends.org.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.