My first experience as animal caretaker: working at a monkey island with baboons in the Netherlands

A monkey island in the Netherlands? That small and cold and rainy country next to Germany? That is the Netherlands you mean? 

Yes, that is the one

Now you might wonder why there are monkeys on an island in the Netherlands.

Well, let me explain:

This place is called Stichting AAP and it is one of the most famous primate rescue centers in Europe. It is not actually on an island but Almere, a city very close to Amsterdam

(although everything is close in the Netherlands)? 

At this place they rescue primates and small mammals from pet trade, closing zoos and abandoned circuses.

How did I arrive there?

Since I started my studies as a vet, it was clear to me that I wanted to help animals. And where better than an animal sanctuary or rescue center?

Sadly, humans are doing a great deal of damage to wildlife and nature. with the result of extinctions and biodiversity loss.

I wanted to be part of the solution. Do something to try to fix the damage humans do to animals and nature every single day.

Why are there monkeys on an island?

Baboons don’t actually live on an island in their natural habitat, so why did they put them on an island in the Netherlands? Well that is a good question.

These «islands» are outside enclosures surrounded by water. This kind of enclosure is used normally with some species of primates. Just for one simple reason: they don’t like water and can not swim.

This is an easy way to keep the animals from escaping and it also looks nicer.

Working as a volunteer

There I was! Working as a volunteer at such an important place!

Probably that is the best way to start working with wild animals and in my case, with primates.

Surrounded by monkeys and people that knew a lot about them.

And because I was participating in an Erasmus scholarship (back then called EVS), I had a contract that linked me to AAP for 1 year.

During this year I was going to rotate around and get experience in their four departments: primates, mammals, quarantine and chimps.

My first department: primates

My first department was the primate department

And my first lessons were how to behave in front of primates.

Here is when I realized that some facial expressions could confuse primates because they mean something completely different in monkey language.

When we smile we mean that something is funny or amusing, but in the primate language it means fear and when they show their teeth aggression.

After that I had to learn to differentiate individuals. Most were easy because there were only two or three monkeys in every enclosure. The real challenge started when I had to learn a group of 12 baboons?.

My first thought (and probably I am not the only one who thinks that) was: but they all look the same!

Differentiating female and male was ok, but more than that I could not see.

My eyes were not used to really see.

Luckily one of the caretakers taught me how she did differentiate the monkeys. She showed me small differences, like a ripped ear, a broken tail or a missing finger. 

Once you get the easy details the rest will follow and soon I could tell them all apart. I also saw that each monkey behaved differently in the group.

After some weeks I could not remember why it was so difficult for me to see how different they were from each other.

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