Jim Cronin died at the age of 55 on March 17th
2007 after a short battle with liver cancer. Yet
I first found this out two weeks after the event.
I was shocked that nothing of this news had been
broadcast on the national news services. I searched
Sky News and found nothing. I searched the BBC,
but found one article in the local news. Only two
national newspapers had articles in the obituaries
section. All other news was in the local media of
Dorset and his hometown of New York, where he died.
It’s times like this that I am disgusted with
the world’s media. It seems that they can
find an abundance of time and space to write tons
of drivel about talentless wanabee celebrities appearing
on so-called reality TV shows, but when it comes
to real people who have worked hard, achieved more
in one day than these people will ever do in their
entire lives, and made a huge difference to the
world, they get relegated to the back page, if that!
Jim Cronin was a great man, whose tireless work
helped change the lives of many of our closest relatives
who have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the
hands of their captives. To date he has rescued
hundreds of chimps, monkeys and orang-utans and
helped rehabilitate them. His endless campaigning
and undercover work has helped put a stop to beach
photographers using chimps as props in Spain and
Turkey, and helped expose the cruel and barbaric
primate trade in Africa and Asia.
Born in 1951 in Yonkers, NY, Jim Cronin first became
interested in primates after an accident moving
a piano left him with a leg in traction. When he
recovered he took a job at the Bronx zoo looking
after the primates there. Soon after he moved to
England and took a job in an animal park near Canterbury,
Kent. Here he helped set up a breeding program for
the park’s primates despite his lack of formal
qualifications. Jim’s passion and dedication
more than made up for this.
In 1987 he opened Monkey World, established on
a small plot of land near Wareham, Dorset. His vision
was to build a sanctuary where rescued primates
could be rehabilitated and live out the rest of
their lives in a warm, safe and loving environment;
a place where they could learn to be a primate once
again. He built spacious enclosures with grass,
wood, mats and ropes. Each rescued chimp was slowly
introduced into a family group just like they would
be in the wild.
I first heard of Monkey World from the television
series Monkey Business, which is broadcast on ITV
and Discovery channel’s Animal Planet. Upon
my next return to England I visited the park. I
was astounded at how wonderful this place is, how
big the enclosures are, and how happy the apes all
seem to be. I believe that all zoos around the world
should visit Monkey World and see how they should
be treating their primates.
As well as the chimps at Monkey World, Jim and
his wife Alison also helped set up breeding programs
for the endangered species of the world, like the
orang-utan and the gibbon. They helped expose the
many horrors of the illegal animal smuggling trade.
Many of the cute baby chimps people buy in pet stores
have been snatched from their mothers in the wild
(the mother being killed for the illegal bush meat
trade), and smuggled overseas in inhumane conditions
before ending up in these pet shops. Many of the
primates you see performing in travelling circuses
or with beach photographers are being subjected
to the utmost cruelty by their owners. Often at
considerable personal risk to themselves, Jim and
Alison Cronin would go undercover to expose all
primate cruelty around the world.
In Thailand they discovered a number of parks illegally
holding more than 115 orang-utans in appalling conditions.
Like the chimpanzees of Africa, these critically
endangered primates had been snatched from their
mothers in the wild and smuggled to these parks
by boat. Thanks to Jim and Alison the parks were
raided and the orang-utans returned to sanctuaries
in Borneo for eventual repatriation into the wild.
The list of Jim Cronin’s achievements is
endless. Like Steve Irwin, Jim was a great man whose
life was needlessly cut short. I am always saddened
that people like this, with so much to give, always
die so young. But Jim Cronin’s legacy will
continue through Monkey World, his wife Alison and
the thousands of people he inspired around the world.
Hundreds of primates owe Jim a debt of gratitude
for saving them from the hands of the evil people
of this world.
Monkey World was awarded the Animal Welfare Award
by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
in 2003. In 2006 Jim was awarded an MBE in the New
Year's Honours, but sadly he died before he could
collect the medal.
Visit the Monkey World website and make a donation
to the Jim Cronin memorial fund, or if you can,
visit the park itself. All the money you spend goes
towards continuing Jim’s work around the world.
Ian Middleton: Travel Writer and Photographer.