If I had my way I’d be travelling right now. Not on holiday, or to visit people, but like a Nomad around Africa, Asia and the Americas filming monkeys and apes till the cows come home.
Sadly lack of funds and not a cow in sight means I have to make do with what’s practical and what’s possible.
On Thursday I took a trip to Stoke-on-Trent to visit Trentham Monkey Forest. The park is currently closed and opens again in mid-February. I wanted to find out from the director, Susan Wiper, who also lives on site, how the monkeys coped with the freezing temperatures in December.
I for one sympathise. I’ve never really been an all-weather kinda gal and I’m certainly not a great fan of snow. In fact like my Caribbean roots, I love the sun and I’m definitely a water baby.
It makes me laugh out loud when people say to me, “I love the snow!”. Really?!
Try standing outside for 5 hours, on the same spot, talking to the nation. As a broadcast journalist, talking has never been a problem for me; but live reporting in those temperatures is no joke. It’s like having a mini stroke, you know what you want to say, but your jaw refuses to move in the direction you’re willing it. You end up sounding drunk on air (or maybe that’s just me). And the cold gets properly into your bones. If there’s one benefit that presenters have over reporters (apart from the inflated salary) it’s that they have the warmth and comfort of the studio. Roll on summer.
The primates at Monkey Forest are all Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus). This species live in a habitat of mixed cedar and oak and are found in Gibraltar; Morocco and Algeria in the mountains. It has no tail and varies in colour from yellowish grey to greyish brown. The monkeys sit on tough resting pads, on their bottom called ischial callosities, when they forage. Sue told me that because the ground was frozen during December, staff had to lay hay down to make sure their bottoms kept warm. That is certainly one place you don’t want to get frostbite!
The park is not like a zoo or a sanctuary, Sue calls it a “mini Algeria or Morocco” because the monkeys roam free. There’s nothing to separate the public from the monkeys. You are told to stick to the paths and not to try to touch or feed the monkeys.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous about filming my piece to camera so close to them. I had a rather unforgettable ‘close call’ with a nine-year-old juvenile chimp in Africa, which I didn’t want to repeat! Remember primates are wild animals, they are not domesticated and no matter how cute they look, you should always keep your distance. I was advised not to make eye contact and to watch my step. I survived and thankfully so did my equipment. Number one rule in telly – never work with children or animals – I love testing every rule in book.
The first Monkey Forest started in 1969 close to the border of France and Germany in Alsace. The attraction became so popular, the owners decided to open three more – there are now four in total. Of course the way the animals are cared for has improved vastly since the 1970′s, because we know so much more about these primates, thanks to scientists and researchers all over the world.
Trentham has been running since 2005 and Sue tells me despite these monkeys being brought over from France and Germany, they have never experienced such cold weather. It was a difficult time for staff as they were concerned how they’d cope; but like true wild macaques, it was literally a walk in the park.
This is my short report at the park with Sue. The photographs are courtesy of Monkey Forest.