Spider Monkeys in the Mist

Apenheul  is a lot like Sea World. Except with primates. Primates that jump on your head and poop with wanton abandon. I realize this is the second post I’ve written in a row involving animals and their bathroom habits. Please, bear with me.

This Dutch theme park/zoo/conservation mecca, located in Apeldoorn, offers the sort of experience you’d never be able to enjoy in the United States. Or enjoy for long before someone, most likely the sort of person that pushes their 4+ year old children around in strollers, sued the living hell out of it.

After paying the entrance fee on a rainy afternoon back in August, Marie and I wandered into a large area filled with free-roaming spider monkeys. They were everywhere and possessed absolutely no fear of human beings. As I leaned down to take a photo of one, another used my back as a launching platform to reach the shoulders of a woman standing nearby.  Every which way I turned, I saw spider monkeys. Spider monkeys on heads. Spider monkeys on railings and munching on fruit in trees. Spider monkeys diligently posing for photos. The people around me were amazed/astounding/delighted by their freewheeling antics and pratfalls. Then the crying started.

As with anything involving live animals, especially ones with sharp teeth and impeccable jumping skills, there are rules you should follow. Signs around Apenheul warn visitors to place their purses inside of primate-proof bags. One sign reads, in English, “let the monkeys go their own way. Do not try to chase, hold or even caress them!” Honestly, the thought of caressing one of them didn’t occur to me. Must happen all the time if the staff believe this information should be on a sign. Those monkeys can definitely be charming….

But, anyway, the crying. It filled the air like flatulence in an elevator. Everyone within a hundred yards turned to find the source. It should come as no surprise that it was coming from a 4+ year old in a stroller. He had made the mistake of doing something You Should Absolutely Not Do to a Monkey, Ever, Under Any Circumstances. 

That’s right. He pointed at it.

Primates, apparently, either hate being pointed at or love to munch on human fingers. One of the spider monkeys had bit the kid on his pinky and he was determined to let everyone within 200 yards know about it. Here’s the strange thing though: rather than immediately call an attorney, his parents scolded him for not following the rules. A member of Apenheul’s staff quickly rushed off and returned with a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a Band-Aid. The monkey responsible was neither reprimanded, nor did it become subject of a frivolous but costly lawsuit.

So, yeah, either Europeans are much more mature about these matters or they’re just too lazy to sue theme parks.

The whole Apenheul experience sort of goes downhill from there. After having a spider monkey jump on your head and/or try to steal the contents of your backpack, looking at an orangutan in a traditional, zoo-like setting lacks a certain amount of luster. They really should have placed them at the end near the exits. We caught the gorilla extravaganza in a small arena but, unlike Sea World, the staff didn’t ride on their backs or make them perform humiliating tricks for our amusement. Instead, the gorillas sat around and ate grapes.

Other highlights from the trip: witnessing a group of kids ask lots of awkward questions about the “weird, red thing” jutting out from between the legs of a proboscis monkey and nearly getting hit by droppings at an indoor exhibit. All things considered, I’d much rather spend a day at Apenhul than a zoo. That said, the park’s probably best avoided once all of this goes down a few years from now.

Did you honestly think I’d be able to get through a blog post about an all-primate theme park without a Planet of the Apes reference?

Note: Sadly, Apenhul is closed for the winter. I’m not sure where the primates go during the colder months of the year but I hope it’s someplace warm. Like Spain. I think they’d enjoy Barcelona, in particular. The park is set to open for the 2012 season on March 28th. 

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