With few resources, primate sanctuary struggles to save lives
by Gene Perry
It was a typically muggy summer day in Newcastle, OK, but nobody was slowing down at Mindy’s Memory Primate Sanctuary. Not with yard work to do, cages to clean, fences to repair, and hungry primates to feed. Making the rounds with the produce cart, Linda Barcklay paused in front of a monkey perched on a high platform. She called to him a few times, until the small, black and gray primate flashed his teeth at us.
“We’re not his favorite creature,” Barcklay said.
The monkeys can’t be blamed for feeling that way. Before coming to the sanctuary, many had experienced extreme abuse and neglect from humans. They underwent painful experiments in medical labs or were kept as pets but then locked away when their owners couldn’t handle them. The pet monkeys frequently had to be given up after attacking and causing serious injuries to their owner or another person.
Barcklay, who founded Mindy’s Memory 11 years ago and started taking in monkeys 9 years before that, said the pet situation was out of control. She learned this lesson firsthand.
“I was foolish enough to buy a pet monkey,” she said. “It got very aggressive at two years old.”
It was then that she realized there must be many more primates with no place to go when their owners give them up. According to the Humane Society, more than 112,000 nonhuman primates are kept in labs in the U.S., and thousands more are kept as pets. It became her life’s mission to give them a better existence.
“Every surgery that anybody’s ever had has been done on animals first,” Barcklay said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude, and this is my way of paying back some of it.”
Today this mission takes up almost every waking hour. Barcklay and one employee, Nancy Eno, along with a few volunteers, care for more than 75 monkeys from 10 different species.
“Linda runs on pennies,” Eno said. “She never takes a paycheck. She works 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
Barcklay said she has no other choice.
“It’s a lifetime commitment,” she said. “Their lives depend on us. It’s not the Ritz, but they’re happy.”
Mindy’s Memory is one of only five accredited primate sanctuaries in the country, according to the American Sanctuary Association. With resources already stretched to the limit, they can handle only a tiny percentage of the monkeys in need.
Even those lucky enough to go to the sanctuary often arrive in very poor health. Barcklay and Eno don’t know what’s been done to the research animals suffering mysterious ailments. Even the physically healthy monkeys will have psychological problems. Spending their entire lives in a lab or person’s home leaves them not knowing how to act like primates. Eno said a couple of new arrivals had never seen grass before.
“They were afraid because the wind was blowing,” she said. “They got used to it pretty fast.”
They rely on grants and small individual donations to pay for food, maintenance and power to heat the monkeys’ enclosures during the winter.
“We don’t have the cages and we don’t have the funds to expand,” Eno said. “The main thing that we’re needing right now is welding on cages. The monkeys are very hard on the cages. They grab the bars and they shake.”
They are also looking for donations of produce from individuals or businesses. Eno said a nearby grocery store used to donate produce but it went out of business. She said the monkeys especially appreciated a recent donation of okra.
“They love to split open the pods and eat the little seeds.”
The sanctuary welcomes volunteers to clean cages, build enrichment structures, or do other maintenance. More information can be found on the Mindy’s Memory website at http://www.mindysmem.org or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=139985725296.
“It doesn’t take a whole lot of time to improve the life of monkeys that have not had a good deal given to them at the hand of humans,” said regular volunteer Vanessa Scholle.