It’s not every day you can stand next to a friendly monkey from Asia while he looks you up and down before casually sauntering past and continuing on with his day.
Unless of course you’re visiting Monkeyland-KZN just outside Ballito, where friendly encounters like this are a common occurrence.
The children in our group giggle excitedly as we climb aboard the open-air Monkeyland-KZN safari vehicle, ready to go on our ‘monkey safari’. “It feels like we’re heading into Jurassic Park,” says one of the older kids.
As we make our way out of the Monkeyland-KZN ‘HQ’ towards a beautiful, pristine coastal forest a little way up the road, I can’t help but agree.
But this forest is anything but dangerous and filled with predators. Nope, this 23-ha forest is home to six different primate species and more than 100 free-roaming monkeys from around the world. And they are far from scary.
Having opened just six months ago, Monkeyland-KZN is the second of its kind in the country (the other one is in Plettenberg Bay), and is one of four properties part of the South Africa Animal Sanctuary Alliance (SAASA) – a group dedicated to wildlife protection and awareness.
The goal for SAASA is ultimately to improve the lives of the captive animals by protecting and caring for them, and educating people about them. All of the monkeys at Monkeyland-KZN were raised in captivity, often as pets or from zoos.
As we make our way through the gates and start our tour, our guide Zanele tells us about their strict ‘no touch’ policy and the requirement to keep a good distance from the primates. It’s because of these rules that the primates have no reason to feel threatened by people in the forest, we are told, and will sometimes come quite close if you’re in the way of where they want to go. And man are they cute!
We saw five of the six different species at Monkeyland-KZN during our visit. The species that call this beautiful coastal forest their home are the capuchins, ringtail and black-and-white ruffed lemurs (just like the ones in Madagascar and so the kids’ favourites, of course), squirrel monkeys, black howlers and, my personal favourite, buff-cheeked gibbons.
As we stroll through the forest, Zanele points out different trees and plants and shows us the feeding platforms. There are even little monkey tree houses where they can go to keep dry and warm when it’s cold or where they can find comfort when they are first re-homed in the forest and learning to find natural shelter.
At one stage during out tour we all stop dead in our tracks as we listen in awe to eerily loud sounds of the howler monkeys.
After making our way through the forest pathway we say goodbye to the forest and make our way back to the reception are of MonkeylandKZN which is very modern and spacious and features a great play area for smaller kids as well as a pizza oven. There is also a large shop with loads of MonkeylandKZN merch, soft toy monkeys and other memorabilia as well as drinks and snacks.
All of the proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales go directly back into the running of the sanctuary to cover the cost of staff, vet bills and food and care for the monkeys.
What you need to know:
– This is a family-friendly spot and young kids are welcome (remember the strict no-touch policy though)
– Wear comfy shoes for your stroll through the forest. It’s an easy walk, but can be slippery if wet (or if you accidentally stand in monkey poop!)
– The sanctuary is open from 8am to 4pm daily and tours depart every 15 minutes from the reception area and last about an hour.
– Tickets are valid for a whole day, meaning you can go on as many tours as you want during the day.
– Ticket prices: Adults R300, kids R150 (ages 3 to 12, kids under 3 are free). Family ticket package (2 adults and 2 children) R630. Annual membership R600 (adults) R300 (kids 3 – 12 years) – unlimited visits for 12 months and can be used at both MonkeylandKZN and Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary in Plett.
WIN! We have three annual membership tickets to give away, valued at R600 each.
Details: [email protected]; www.monkeylandkzn.co.za, 032 004 0178; 066 479 6138
TEXT: Leah Shone