For the half term break, I joined my parents on a little holiday in Dorset – because while going abroad is great and all, it’s still possible to have fun and see new things in your own country!
For our first day out, we visited the town of Shaftesbury. The cottage where we were staying was courteous enough to give us a suggested walk, and we got some lovely views of Blackmore Vale and Castle Hill.
Outside the Shaftesbury town hall, there is a giant Hovis loaf, marking the use of the nearby Gold Hill for a 1973 Hovis advert which was later voted the best British advert ever. What you can see in the picture has been kept looking as it does in the advert; further down, out of sight of the top, the cobbles turn back into tarmac. Not sure if there’s anybody living in those houses.
On Day 2, my dad and I visited the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum. Among the more notable attractions at this museum is a short tour that’s supposed to be a recreation of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal as it was in the 1970s. You get in via a helicopter that shakes with appropriate sound effects (no motion sickness warnings – it’s not quite that realistic) and then emerge onto the flight deck complete with Phantoms and Buccaneers, and planes taking off and landing at regular intervals via projector screens.
The museum also boasts the first British-made Concorde, from 1969. On the inside, it’s extremely cramped – I feel sorry for any taller passengers. From the outside, it gave me the chance to try out the panorama function on my camera!
Day 3 was the highlight, as I was finally getting to go somewhere I’ve wanted to see for years – Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre. Founded in 1987 by the late Jim Cronin, Monkey World provides a home for rescued primates, coming from such places as the illegal pet trade, laboratories, and use as tourist attractions in foreign countries. Many of the animals at the park have been very badly abused, bearing old injuries and unnatural behaviour – some of the chimpanzees used by Spanish beach photographers were even addicted to drugs or cigarettes when they were first rescued.
Monkey World is the subject of a long-running documentary series, originally called Monkey Business but later changed to Monkey Life, which I started watching around 2000-2001. At the start, most of the focus was on the chimpanzee groups (of which there are currently four), though these days, there’s much more focus on other species like the gibbons and monkeys. My mum and I have always loved the show, and having gotten to know various individuals, we were very excited to see them in person – it felt like meeting celebrities.
We had five hours in Monkey World, and it didn’t feel like nearly enough. Every time we looked into another enclosure, we’d be distracted. You can tell how well cared for the animals are – they were all very active and enriched, which is of course especially important for highly intelligent animals like these.
These are South American woolly monkeys – this endangered species is very difficult to breed in captivity, but several babies have been born and raised at Monkey World.
Here is orang-utan Gordon, with his mother Amy on the left. Gordon was born in 1997, at the end of the first series of Monkey Business; he had to be hand-reared after being rejected by Amy. Watching the series all these years, we were used to seeing Gordon as a young animal, so it feels quite strange to see him as a mature male who has already sired offspring.
Although it plays an active part in breeding programmes for other species, Monkey World tries not to breed chimpanzees due to space issues; the female chimps are given contraceptives, but accidents sometimes happen. When a baby chimp is born at the park, it is rejected by its mother more often than not – having usually been taken from their own mothers at a young age, they simply don’t know how to look after a baby. This youngster, Thelma, is happily an exception.
A male and female pair of golden cheeked gibbons, another species bred successfully at Monkey World. In this species, both males and females are born gold, then turn black with golden cheeks – while the males stay that way, the females turn gold again when they become sexually mature.
As well as two adult orang-utan groups, the park has a nursery where two adult females, Oshine and Amei, supervise a collection of immature animals. This is Oshine, who was rescued from South Africa. Having been raised as a pet, she came to the park extremely overweight – while she has partly overcome this problem, she still likes to walk around on two legs!
The Jim Cronin Memorial, depicting Jim with chimpanzee Charlie. Charlie, who died in 2009, was one of Monkey World’s most famous residents; rescued from Spanish beach photographers, he suffered particularly bad abuse (he was addicted to Valium, and all but three of his teeth were pulled out), which led to unusual behavioural tics like displaying at passing tanks.
And here are Sally and Lulu, the resident adult females in the chimpanzee nursery – which is a bit difficult to call a nursery as the “babies” there are now quite well grown. Note that Lulu only has one arm, which is why she doesn’t live in an adult group.