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Mornings at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary are busy but coordinated. First, staff members and interns fill the office kitchen to start the morning “meds” ritual. There is an unconscious, un-choreographed dance to the madness as bodies twist and turn, gathering medications, squeezing into their spots at the counter, and carefully placing each medication into a treat that the monkey will hopefully take.

Once the medications and supplements have been prepared, the care staff review all of the ever-changing information about monkey groups, individuals, progress on introductions, veterinary care, and any infrastructure issues. Then, caregivers head out to their assigned areas to care for the 600 monkeys who call our sanctuary home.

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Chongo, a young rhesus macaque, is on twice-daily medications to control an issue with his esophagus. He has been taking his medications in a yogurt drink without issue. However, today, for some reason, he refuses his medications, dumps his cup in seeming frustration, and walks off.

Unfortunately, Chongo cannot receive food unless he takes his medication. So, staff member Devan stops in the middle of her routine and returns to the kitchen to prepare another round for him — this time placing the medication in a tasty snack cake. After a few moments of picking, smelling, and then tasting, Chongo eats it all.

Devan then moves on to the other four monkeys in her area who are receiving medications. She will continue on with routine care (feeding, cleaning, changing water, monitoring, etc.) for the 60 other primates in her section.

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A similar dance is played out all across the sanctuary. Fifty-gallon water troughs weighing almost 400 pounds are dumped, scrubbed, and filled with fresh water. Enclosures are thoroughly raked, and old food bits, damaged toys, and other enrichment items are picked up. Food is distributed by truck in the large enclosures where monkeys help themselves to the boxes of fresh produce before staff can even exit the vehicle. In the four-and-a-half acre “northwest” enclosure, another coordinated routine begins as food is placed in 10-cubic-foot carts and wheeled throughout the space. Staff scatter the food items out by hand to give all of the monkeys a chance to eat in relative peace.

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For monkeys previously kept as pets, like Chongo, or those retired from research, providing proper care is more complicated. They can frequently become agitated and aggressive, so staff do not have open contact with them. Rather than staff going through the enclosure tossing food, those monkeys are shifted through gates into adjacent yards to allow staff to go in and clean, change water, and distribute food around.

These dances are performed with us, without us, and all around us — each and every day. Some are flowing and beautiful, some are brash and coarse, and some are so subtle as to be almost unrecognizable. But, they all share a common basic step: the dance of life.

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To learn more about Born Free USA’s Primate Sanctuary, click here. To get an inside look into life at the sanctuary, check out their Instagram page.

All image source: Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary/Flickr

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