Interview with Lorriane Docherty from MONA-UK

Copyright 2013 © Learningaboutanimals.co.uk

Lorraine Docherty runs MONA-UK, the UK branch of MONA that she set up as a UK registered charity in 2005 after volunteering at the MONA sanctuary in Spain. Lorraine promised Olga Feliu, the Director of the sanctuary, that she would help to increase public awareness worldwide about the plight of primates suffering in captivity and also help promote the work on MONA in their mission to rescue abused primates.


1) What does MONA mean and what are the main aims of the organisation?

MONA means cute or monkey in Spanish.

We are dedicated to:

• The rescue of primates suffering in captivity

• Working to end the abuse of primates in captivity

• Promoting the welfare and conservation of primates

• Promoting respect and understanding of primates


2) When and why was MONA set up?

MONA in Spain was set up in 2001 by Olga Feliu to rescue a group of 6 chimps being kept in an old truck in awful conditions in Valencia. These poor animals had been living in the dark for 10 years in 2 x 2m square cages. During the day they were forced to wear clothes and perform in TV commercials and then they were kept in dirty cramped conditions.


3) Are chimps in captivity increasing in numbers or is the practise dying out now that the public are more ethically aware?

Worldwide, the numbers of chimps in captivity are increasing because of habitat loss and increasing numbers of orphans from the illegal bush meat trade arriving in African sanctuaries.  Another important issue is that chimps can live for up to fifty years so if any facility is allowing their animals to reproduce, it is very difficult to phase this out.  I think the public are slowly becoming ethically aware but it’s the responsibility of zoos and sanctuaries to promote respect and understanding of the primates in their care.  


4) How well do chimpanzees rescued from poor conditions adapt once they are given more space and the opportunity to develop social groups?

Generally we have found that chimps are highly adaptable individuals.  For example, we rescued a young 1-year-old male infant called Juanito from a zoo in Tenerife. When we found him he had spent the first year of his life lying flat, squeezed into a cat carrier. Also he was deliberately malnourished so that we wouldn’t outgrow the carrier. Initially he had no muscle tone or strength and he was so weak he couldn’t even sit up on his own but within months after his rescue he was crawling and climbing. He settled into the family group very quickly; within a few weeks and today he is a confident, energetic 5-year-old chimp who is popular with all the members of the group. He has developed many close friendships with both male and female youngsters.


5) MONA’s sanctuary is in Spain. Is the situation similar in other European Countries? What is the law with respect to keeping chimpanzees in captivity?

Yes the situation is similar in Europe with unwanted primates; it’s particularly bad in Portugal and Eastern Europe at the moment.  Generally the law for keeping chimps is that you need a specific licence and you must have documentation showing that the animals have been born in captivity.


6) Your charity provides a sanctuary for chimps confiscated by the police. Do you find that the authorities are concerned by the trade or is it a struggle to be able to rescue chimps from unsuitable/illegal captive situations?

We work with SEPRONA, which is the branch of the Spanish police that deal with all issues relating to exotic animals. We have found that they are concerned about the illegal trafficking of primates but the main problem in Spain is that once confiscated there are few facilities to house monkeys and no facilities to house chimpanzees so many of them end up in dog kennels or dilapidated zoos or parks.  



7) What are the main welfare concerns for chimps in captivity? And the main threats to chimps in the wild?

Chimpanzees are highly intelligent individuals and in the wild, they can travel as much as 7 miles a day foraging for food and are exposed to many different challenges and situations during the day requiring problem-solving abilities in order to survive. Sadly there are many chimpanzees in captivity that are not exposed to situations that challenge them and they are instead destined to a life of boredom and frustration. We are very passionate about environmental enrichment and we believe that it is very important to expose the chimpanzees in our care to as much variety in their lives as possible. To do this, we use many different forms of enrichment to give them opportunities for problem solving, to give them things to think about, and to help them stay healthy, physically and mentally. The chimpanzees did not choose to live in captivity and it is our responsibility to enrich their lives and give them the best possible quality of life.

The main threat to chimps in the wild is deforestation and the illegal bush meat trade.


8) In 2000 Linda Howard and Dena Jones published an article entitled “Trafficking in Misery: The Primate Trade" which highlighted the problem of the international trade in primates. Has there been any progress for chimps since 2000?

We haven’t seen any trade in chimps from Africa to Spain since we have set up the sanctuary but we are currently seeing a large number of Barbary macaques being smuggled from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco across Europe through Spain.


9) What are the current campaigns MONA is involved with?

• Stop the use of chimpanzees in TV commercials.

• Rescue more Barbary Macaques

• Rescue more chimps living in unsuitable conditions


10) How can people who are interested in your work help?

People can volunteer at our sanctuary but we require a six-month commitment. Our volunteer program has been very popular worldwide but what we need more at the moment are volunteers that can help us with fundraising and spreading the word for us.