Monkey Jungle got its start in the '30s when Joseph DuMond released a troop of monkeys into a dense patch of South Dade wilderness and then opened it as a one-of-a-kind attraction "where humans are caged and monkeys run wild." More than seven decades later, the 30-acre roadside park — which allows some monkeys to roam freely while visitors gaze at them from an enclosed path — still makes that promise.
But the park has come under fire this week after a person who claims to be a former employee posted online dozens of photos that purportedly show real conditions behind the scenes at the facility, including dingy, soiled cages and bleeding sores on the park's gorilla, King.
"We were really shocked to see these photos," says Nick Atwood, campaigns coordinator for the nonprofit Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, which called for an investigation in response to the images. "That's not the proper way to care for the animals."
An employee who answered the phone at Monkey Jungle this past Monday afternoon told New Times that park administrators were aware of the pictures and planned to release a statement. He asked a reporter to call back at 5 p.m. but then was not available at that time. The park has yet to respond.
The 28 photos were first shared Friday by an Imgur user with the handle "justice4monkeys," who included short descriptions of the conditions and treatment of the animals. Below a photo of King with wounds on his stomach, the poster wrote that management "virtually ignores" the injuries.
Below a picture of a ratty blanket on a concrete floor, the text read, "We give King a single small throw blanket at night to nest/sleep with. Otherwise he is on concrete."
Another image showed King behind bars in what the description said is his "very small nighthouse." The Imgur user wrote that a presentation about King at Monkey Jungle talks about how he controls the TV set in the enclosure and how The Ellen DeGeneres Show is his favorite. In reality, the Imgur post said, the TV set plays two Disney movies on loop and "he does not seem to enjoy it much at all. There is no evidence of Ellen anywhere."
Justice4monkeys also shared a collection of pictures of Mei, the park's orangutan, in an enclosure with feces-streaked walls. Cardboard boxes and rotten fruit litter the floor in a "nest" beneath an overturned plastic bucket.
The accompanying text says Mei sits in the nest all day, calling the conditions "abusive."
Monkey Jungle, which is still run by the DuMond family, has previously drawn criticism for its treatment of King, a former Las Vegas stage and circus performer that has lived at the park since 1979. Activists argue that his enclosure is too small and that because gorillas are social animals, he needs companionship.
In 1997, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida began a campaign to relocate King to Zoo Atlanta, which rehabilitates captive gorillas and offers a spacious enclosure where he could have contact with several other gorillas.
The effort grabbed national headlines, but the DuMonds refused to give up King, instead building a larger enclosure for the gorilla at Monkey Jungle.
More recently, Monkey Jungle took heavy damage during Hurricane Irma, which crushed fences, destroyed enclosure roofs, and knocked out power. Staffers rode out the storm with the park's 300 or so primates, and generators kept the nine-foot-tall electric fence online to ensure the monkeys couldn't escape into nearby neighborhoods.
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Atwood says the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, which has continued to follow news about the park, became aware of the Imgur post this past Sunday. The group posted some of the images on its Facebook page and described the animals' living conditions as "filthy."
The group also sent several of the photos to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with a letter requesting an investigation into whether Monkey Jungle is complying with the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates treatment of captive animals.
"Our main concern is that Monkey Jungle is just an old-fashioned roadside zoo that is treating these animals as amusements instead of using them as ambassadors for the species or something that a reputable zoo would do," Atwood says.