Ghandi once said that the moral progress of a nation could be judged by the way it treats its animals. Whatever your opinion of vivisection, a necessary evil or downright unacceptable, it is reassuring to meet a woman who is devoted to the improvement of the welfare of monkeys in Israel.
The daughter of South African immigrants, primatologist Tamar Fredman, may not be able to stop the research. But single handedly she has been trying to persuade experimental laboratories to take better care better of their monkeys, to keep them in groups instead of in individual cages and even provide them with toys and playrooms. Tamar’s tactic is to persuade the labs to give her the monkeys when they are no longer useful, so she can rehabilitate them and eventually find them permanent placements.
In her peaceful primate sanctuary in Ben Shemen, Tamar offers these ex-laboratory monkeys a new life. They learn how to regain their social skills so that they can rejoin others of their own particular species. Living in a social group is essential. When they recover, she sends them abroad to professional and accredited zoos, parks and sanctuaries in Africa, South America and South East Asia. This month 40 monkeys, the largest group ever, will leave Ben Gurion, bound for Malawi, to a huge sanctuary set in natural forest land.
Although laboratory monkeys make up the majority of the sanctuary’s inhabitants, police and customs officers will call Tamar whenever they discover a monkey illegally smuggled into the country. Bought in South American and South East Asian markets, they look adorable and are hard to resist, but once back home many will be sentenced to live out their lives alone in small cages.
Tamar explains: “Up to this point, over two hundred monkeys have passed through the sanctuary. Some were smuggled into Israel by dealers, others arrived as pets. Almost a third of our sanctuary monkeys are Crab Eating Macaques, the most commonly used in laboratories and popular in children’s zoos. One, Yoyo, was confiscated as a baby from a drug dealer, and is now living in a group with a dozen other monkeys in the sanctuary. Another, a Slow Loris, was hidden in a pouch by a young man returning from Thailand. His mother found the poor animal when she was unpacking his clothes. Fortunately she called the authorities who immediately brought it to us”. Before they can be safely released into the wild, adult monkeys must be taught to regain their social skills. This requires months or even years of physiological and psychological rehabilitation by professionally trained staff. Younger monkeys have to be shown how to make friends - no simple matter since an over-enthusiastic youngster can often get a brutal rebuff. These small nervous creatures need to build up their confidence and having made friends with one of the gentler monkeys, Tamar or her helpers will open the cage door and let in a third, then a fourth, watching carefully for signs of stress and aggression.
When Tamar founded the Israel Primate Sanctuary Foundation in 1996 her first targets were the kibbutz zoos, the pinat chai. Not only were many ignorant of how to take care of their monkeys, but some were selling off the babies to make a little extra cash. Tamar, who had discovered her fascination and love for monkeys when she was a student psychologist, set her sights on stopping this illegal trade. One by one she approached all 80 independent farm and kibbutz zoos that kept monkeys and persuaded them to stop selling babies and to castrate their males. The process has taken ten years and at the beginning of 2007 the last pinat chai fell to Tamar’s determination. She admits it is hard to put a complete stop to the illegal smuggling of monkeys into Israel by black market dealers and travelers. There are still sightings of monkeys in private homes – the police even discovered a vet who kept eight cooped up in cages at home.
However, in the main Tamar is optimistic. She lectures to schools and groups all over the country, she fundraises and educates, she enthuses and she pleads. Hebrew University professor Hagai Bergman, an authority on research into Parkinson’s disease, is impressed. “Tamar is leading us to what we hope will be the standard in the western academic world in the future”, he told me. “She is helping to give our monkeys many more years of happiness”. ”
The primate sanctuary was built in 1996 on land donated by the Monkey Park in Ben-Shemen. Tamar is unable to welcome visitors but gives an excellent illustrated talk in English or Hebrew to interested groups.
At any one time, there are between 60 and 100 monkeys at the primate sanctuary. Tamar collaborates closely with the Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, the Veterinary Services and the Ministry of the Environment.
Visit Tamar’s website on www.ipsf.org.il