SMALL TOWNS: Westfield sanctuary provides research monkeys a forever home

In Westfield, these monkeys may be seeing the outdoors for the first time
Updated: Oct. 6, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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MARQUETTE COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - The mission is simple: to improve the quality of life for monkeys from research facilities and the pet trade, by providing them a forever home in sanctuary. Despite more than 100,000 monkeys currently in research, there are only nine monkey sanctuaries across the country.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to Marquette County to visit one of them.

If a yearbook was published for Primates Incorporated for the year 2022, they are the faces you would see.

Nine rhesus monkeys and two vervets, old world monkeys, at a sanctuary for the rest of their lives, cared for and adored.

“I’ve been working with some of these monkeys for 4 1/2 years so it’s hard not to fall in love, even if they don’t fall in love with you right away, some of them you have to work for their trust a little bit,” says Fallon Mullen, Primates Inc. Animal Care Manager.

“They make my retirement, honestly and I’m going to start crying because it is so true, they have made my retirement,” adds sanctuary volunteer Claudia Cooper.

Located just outside Westfield, Primates Inc. is a dream-fulfilled for Amy Kerwin.

In 2003, while working in a research lab at the University of Wisconsin, Amy says she fell in love with 97 rhesus monkeys, but was heartbroken over their confinement.

“The minimum USDA guidelines are about 27 cubic feet and that’s equivalent to a human living in a closet for their whole life and with monkeys as complex of a species they are and they love traveling and foraging, I just wanted them to achieve sanctuary,” explains Amy.

In 2004, Amy founded Primates Incorporated, with hopes of building a sanctuary for the monkeys she worked with.

“And I brought it up to management, I was so excited that maybe I could bring about change at the lab and send the monkeys to sanctuary, but sadly not everyone was for it and then since I knew the need existed, I just chose to resign and leave my 97 rhesus friends behind and work with labs who did want to send monkeys to sanctuary,” says Amy.

Over the next ten years, Amy spent her time raising funds and awareness.

Then, in 2014, the non-profit on paper started to become a reality.

Thanks to foundations and donors, Primates Inc, purchased these 17 acres in Marquette County, and construction on a sanctuary building and enclosures started soon after.

“It’s great to see so many caring people coming forward because so many don’t know about the need to help them,” says Amy.

In 2018, the first three monkeys arrived at Primates Inc. Today, there are 11.

Still just a fraction of the 106,000 monkeys in labs and breeding facilities around the nation, including around 10,000 in Wisconsin.

“So even if one percent of them could be sent to sanctuary, there’s just simply not enough funding out there for sanctuaries right now, but I’m trying to change that, really make Primates Inc. part of the community and show the need out there so that there can be a sanctuary established in every state so no monkey ever gets turned away again,” says Amy.

Every day. staff at the sanctuary, four part-time staff and volunteer assistants, help give the monkeys a life, that until arriving here, they’d never known.

“Opportunity for space, freedom of choice, have group mates as possibly for the first time, see the outdoors possibly for the first time,” explains Fallon.

The daily routine includes breakfast, positive reinforcement training and dietary enrichment.

Today’s treat is mini pumpkins and kale with wild berries.

“Then they eat dinner just like we would and right around that time they’re ready to go to bed, just like us,” says Fallon.

So many similarities, helping to create a bond that is special, unique and earned at the sanctuary.

“We have a new volunteer for example, they know that that’s a new person and fresh meat, but yeah, they know their routine, they know the people, the longer you’re here you become part of the troop too,” says Fallon with a smile.

These monkeys likely know they’ve won the lottery, to be at a sanctuary filled with compassion.

“The monkeys come first, no matter what, and for such a small sanctuary I think that’s the most incredible part of it. They put in their time and I think we all understand that things have to be done, but let’s give them a home afterwards,” says Claudia.

“Animals don’t have a voice so it’s up to us to care for them. I’m so blessed to have a job like this in Wisconsin, I’m so thankful and you know not many people get to say they absolutely love what they do, and I do,” adds Fallon.

Moving forward, the goal at Primates, Inc. is to be able to expand to the point the sanctuary can be home to 100 monkeys, and serve as a model to inspire new sanctuaries in other states.

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