Not a big fan of celebrating birthdays, I was treated this year to a very nice surprise weekend in one of the most beautiful and nature rich environments of the Netherlands, the Veluwe. On the north side, just above the national park, the city of Apeldoorn is located which houses a zoo unlike any other in the Netherlands, the Apenheul.

Apenheul Primate Park opened in 1971 as a small primate park with a revolutionary concept: to allow the monkeys freedom of movement and allow them to mingle with the visitors. However, visitors were – and still are – strictly advised to leave the animals at peace. Petting is forbidden and (needless to say) so is feeding the animals. Some of the monkeys do interact with the visitors, but they have a choice. They can totally ignore the visitors and roam and forage in the tree tops of their forest, or they can choose to come and investigate what the visitors are doing. The opportunity for contact is often among the most memorable experiences for visitors. The close encounter with exotic animals will easily lead to interest and respect for the animals.

It soon became obvious that the primates appreciated Apenheul as much as the visitors did. In – or because of – their great freedom of movement, the animals formed perfect social groups and many offspring were born and reared naturally by their own mothers. Even with species which, until then, had been considered “difficult” to keep, did Apenheul achieve spectacular successes. Almost every troop of monkeys in the park had youngsters roaming around or clinging on to their mothers.


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