HARTBEESPOORT'S Bushbabies Monkey Sanctuary is a unique place.
Currently a home to 92 South American pet monkeys that are no longer wanted, the sanctuary boasts white- throated, tufted and weeper Capuchins, spider and squirrel monkeys, as well as Madagascar's black and white Ruffed lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs.
"As most of them have come from domestic environments, they can on occasion get up close and personal with visitors," said Andre Craye, a tour guide and marketing manager for Bushbabies.
"Most of the monkeys that have been placed here were raised as pets. Some have been bred or imported for the pet trade."
Craye said because there was no preventative legislation in South Africa to control exotic primate trade, anyone can buy South American monkey species from pet shops.
"The babies are really cute when they are small. However, as they mature they can become aggressive and start nipping (biting) members of the adoptive family.
"The monkeys also mark their territory by 'urine-washing' just about everything in sight - furniture, curtains and even beds.
"Pet shop owners deliberately withhold this type of information so that they can make a sale. Once this type of behaviour develops, then the owners feel that they are left with no choice but to get rid of their pet.
"We have been receiving an average of three monkeys every two weeks through our connections with vets countrywide."
On arrival at Bushbabies, the monkeys are checked by a vet, quarantined and then slowly introduced to their new free-roaming environment, where they feed three times a day on fruit and berries.
Visitors to the sanctuary are taken on guided tours along a 2,5km elevated wooden walkway that meanders through indigenous forests, where they can see the monkeys enjoying their natural playground.
En route guests are also shown archaeological sites where there is evidence of hominids dating back to the stone age.
The sanctuary is open seven days a week from 9am, with the last tour leaving the reception area at 4pm. Admission for adults is R195, R175 for pensioners and R95 for children.
The sanctuary is the brainchild of Craig Saunders. Acknowledging that primates are under constant threat, he has provided a place of safety for unwanted pet monkeys, where they can be released without fear of being hunted for their meat or body parts.
l Video and pictures available on the website - www.sowetan.co.za