Images: Don Walser, Founder of Monkey Haven, with Xhabu the Siamang Gibbon; Monkey Haven under construction; The Capuchins – the first monkeys we welcomed to the Haven; The Keepers jumping for joy after wining a top award for their talks (VisitEngland’s Best Told Story 2018).
Once upon a time, there was a muddy field – and a twinkle in Don Walser’s eye. Supported by lots of amazing people, he transformed the mud pit into Monkey Haven, our award-winning attraction on the Isle of Wight. Here are a few highlights from our rollercoaster ride over the past 10 years…
- Buying an old chicken farm
It might have looked like a bumpy field and a ramshackle bungalow. But to Don Walser it was the foundations of an animal sanctuary for exotic creatures including monkeys, meerkats and birds of prey. “I was full of excitement when I bought the land in 2000”, says Don. “And then reality kicked in!”
- Introducing our first monkey
After a frenzy of building work, and overcoming endless tape, we were ready to start caring for animals. Martin the White-Throated Capuchin was one of the first to arrive in 2004. It was a big moment for us all. The cheeky character needed a new home, as his zoo was closing down, and he soon settled in. Martin has now passed away, but the Capuchin family is still going strong and we’re raising money for a smart new home for them in 2020.
- Making an ape laugh
Xhabu, a Siamang Gibbon with multiple disabilities, arrived in 2004. At his previous home, he would just sit in a corner, banging his head. Now he’s a happy chappie with a huge personality… and when he’s tickled on his neck, he actually laughs! We’ve named the tea room after him.
The Siamang and Mueller Gibbons were originally in next door enclosures, but they kept grooming each other through the wire. We asked an expert if they could live together, and he said: why not?! So we opened up the partition, and now they have a wonderful time together, grooming, singing, swinging and sunbathing.
- Welcoming visitors
It was Easter 2010 and we had been working throughout the long, hard winter to get everything ready for our visitors. We hadn’t officially opened but word of mouth had spread and people just started turning up. It was amazing!
- Becoming a charity
It’s been a rocky financial ride, and we were running on empty when we made a huge breakthrough by becoming a charity in 2013. It took a year for all the paperwork to go through and a lot of bitten fingernails! It’s been brilliant for us as the money that we used to pay in VAT can now support the animals over the winter. We can also claim Gift Aid, which gives us a boost of up to 25% on donations. Any profit we make goes straight back to caring for the animals.
- Feeling the love from TripAdvisor
We love getting feedback – and it makes us so happy that we’ve won a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for nine years running and we’ve been in the Hall of Fame twice. Thank you to everyone who’s taken the trouble to write a review!
- Winning awards…
We’re really proud of all the awards we’ve won. That includes four Beautiful South Gold Awards in the ‘Small Visitor Attraction’ category, most recently in 2019-20. But we’ve never been as ‘gobsmacked’ as when we won a national award from VisitEngland for ‘Best Small Visitor Attraction’ 2017. Don wore his ‘lucky monkey tie’ to the awards ceremony – we’re sure that did the trick!
- Finding a monkey in a tree
We’ve rescued animals from all kinds of cruel situations. Malta the Grivet was found being smuggled through customs, and the Cotton-Top Tamarins were discovered in squalid conditions in tiny cages. One of the Macaques was found up a tree in Dorset – nobody knows how he got there! We love giving animals another chance of happiness.
- Rescuing an Eagle Owl from a shed
Birds end up here for all kinds of reasons, and we treat them all with TLC. One huge Eagle Owl was found in an abandoned shed. Other birds are brought to us because they’re injured. Whenever possible, we release them back into the wild as part of our ‘rescue and release programme’.
- Doing our bit for the planet
We’re going palm oil free – as we don’t believe that the rainforests should be cut down for this crop. The Haven was built on eco principles, using sustainable timber and recycled materials (eg the mulch in our play areas is made from aircraft tyres!). We were delighted to win Commended in the Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism category of the Beautiful South Awards 2019-20. Plus we struck ‘gold’ in the Green Star Awards from Visit Isle of Wight. “It’s great to be green”, says Founder Don Walser.
5 High Fives!
We’re grateful to so many people who have helped us achieve our dream of rescuing creatures in crisis. So a BIG thank you goes to…
1. Everyone who has visited the park! All proceeds from your visit go to support the animals you meet and help us to rescue even more.
2. All the Keepers, past and present, and our wonderful volunteers – they’re so dedicated, they’re even in on Christmas Day, giving the animals their Christmas dinner and pressies!
3. The AAP – our partner organisation in the Netherlands. They rescue primates, care for them, and then hand-pick lovely homes for them to go to. Many of our monkeys, including the gorgeous Grivets, come from the AAP.
4. Individuals and businesses who have donated everything from bananas to building materials. This includes anyone who’s bought a gift from our Amazon Wish List.
5. The media, bloggers, everyone who mentions us on social media, writes a TripAdvisor review, or tells their friends about us – thank you for spreading the word!