The World’s First Free-Roaming Multi-Species Primate Sanctuary


On a recent stay at The Plettenberg in Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, we were enticed by something called “the world’s first free roaming multi-species primate sanctuary”. All the monkeys of the world, well, many of them, in one place. This is Monkeyland. A sanctuary in the truest sense.

His name was Hamidi. I had never met anyone like him before. Perhaps he had spent too much time around animals. Perhaps I had spent too little. Or, perhaps he was simply not from around here. He was our ranger and ‘here’ was the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, in a bay at the bottom of the African continent. Plettenberg Bay. Home for Hamidi? The middle of the Indian Ocean. The kind of place most people wouldn’t be able to point out on a map, even if you presented them with one folded into a neat tight square around the vicinity in question. Hamidi (birth name: Omar-Alie-Hamid) from the Comoros, he told me – the same place as these guys, originally, he said, pointing at the lemur piggybacking its young across the forest floor below us.

Mr Hamidi



Plettenberg Bay

Above: Monkeyland is home to the longest suspension bridge in Africa – a total of 128m.

We were a far distance from the tiny island in the Indian Ocean – from its place in the big blue close to Madagascar, another island well-known for its lemurs. The piggybackers and other ex-captive primates living here in Monkeyland have travelled some distance before arriving here – from the cages of zoos and rings of circuses the world over. Monkeyland is their refuge – a home for up to 18 different species of primates. Eleven of these roam freely in the main 12 hectare forest. The other seven stay in spacious enclosures within the forest or at Birds of Eden, next door.

The free-roamers include two lemur species – the Black and White Ruffed Lemur and Ringtail Lemur, two Langur species, Black Howler Monkey, Bolivian Squirrel Monkey, Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey, Tufter or Brown Capuchin, Red-backed Bearded Saki, Vervet Monkey and Monkeyland’s only ape species – the White Handed or Lar Gibbon.

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above: the White Handed or Lar Gibbon

Hamidi guided us below the canopy of trees, spider monkeys flinging their nimble bodies from branch to branch around us, the lar gibbon knuckle-walking into the distance, his fur coat brushing the earth. It’s a unique kind of walking safari, and Hamidi is not your average ranger.

A primatologist by profession, Hamidi’s life is these primates. No matter how much I tried to distract him with questions, his attention always lay more on the forest around us, watching for every nose scrunch and tail flick – the Morse Code of the residents who now, happily, he says, call this land, Monkeyland, home.

Ranger Hamidi

Above: Born in the Comoros, Hamidi moved to South Africa because of the lack of employment opportunities in the Comoros.

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above: The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta)

Monkey Vision

Together with Birds of Eden and The Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, also in Plettenberg Bay, Monkeyland is part of The South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance, an organisation that has won several environmental awards, including the Lilizela Service Excellence Award for Best Visitor Experience ‘Wildlife Encounters’; and ‘Best Animal Welfare Initiative’ and overall winner of the World Responsible Tourism Awards.

Open since 1998, Monkeyland ensures a better future for the primates that find their way to them. The process to this end includes the development and implementation of the “Eden Syndrome”, which prepares all previously caged primates for their eventual release into the sanctuary. It is also dedicated to educating people about animal welfare, through this living forest experience.

Visit their website to discover more and meet some of their residents below.



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What Else Should I Do While on the Garden Route?

  • Cruise along the Keurbooms River, mountain bike in the Harkerville Coastal Forests and Marine Reserve, horse ride through scenic meadows of indigenous fynbos, take the plunge at the world’s highest bungy jump (216 metres), and go on a Tsitsikamma Forest canopy tour, 30 metres above the forest floor.
  • There are several great beaches and a multitude of marine activities around Plettenberg Bay – boating, scuba-diving and kayaking – as well as at ‘The Wedge’, the surfer haven nearby.
  • Visit the largest single free-flight aviary in the world at Birds of Eden, with its immense indigenous forest, wild waterfalls and elevated walkways.
  • Explore the Addo National Park – from Gorah Elephant Camp
  • Relax by the pool at The Plettenberg

The Plettenberg

Discover more about this part of South Africa here.

The Little Wisdoms of Bushmans Kloof

Bushmanskloof Little Wisdoms

Man has long gone to the mountains for solace and inspiration. John Muir was a great advocate of this. “I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news,” said the Scottish-American naturalist, author and environmental philosopher. Muir was one of the first people in the world to advocate for the preservation of wildernesses.

Among the world’s other conservationists, those aiming to create and preserve a corner of nature that cannot be touched, those reserving mountainsides as homes for animals and sanctuaries for man, is Bushmans Kloof. A wilderness reserve and wellness retreat in the Cederberg mountains of South Africa.

Bushmans Kloof goes beyond “kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us,” as Muir writes. It is a place of wisdom – little wisdoms with big impact. Below are ten #bklittlewisdoms from our most recent visit to the reserve, as celebrated on our Instagram

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The 10 Little Wisdoms of Bushmans Kloof

1. Be here now

Three simple words. But perhaps the greatest epiphany you’ll ever have – and one I came to through the work of spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. Be here now.

Like the Buddhist philosophy of mindfulness, it is a reminder that all stress and fear and trouble comes from not being here, where we are in this moment. It comes from having our heads in yesterday or tomorrow. When we retreat into ourselves in the present, all that crumbles away and we are free to truly see and experience life.

The environment is perfectly set for this at Bushmans Kloof – during a massage, the therapist’s touch bringing you into your body, or while cycling with the zebras, in the seeming middle of nowhere (or rather, now here). 

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2. Lessons from humanity’s earliest artists

The ancient wisdom of the Bushmen is hidden on the robust surface of the overhangs and caves of the Cederberg – in the form of art. Bushmans Kloof holds up to 130 rock art sites, some of which date back 10,000 years. These creations, made using oxide pigments and as a way of depicting the tribes’ spiritual and cultural lives, serve as a portal to this ancient wisdom. 

On our visit to the sites, guide Jannie explained the many lessons present in the images and in the lives of their creators – lessons in natural healing, community, sustainable living and leadership, for example these seven that the Step Up Leader learnt from the Bushman tribes of north Africa.

  1. Speak little. Observe a lot.
  2. When the group wins, everyone eats.
  3. Victory only happens through team.
  4. Everyone prospers because the goal is to take care of the group.
  5. We are responsible for people, even those that are not part of our formal community.
  6. Focus on what truly matters.
  7. Live in the present and live happily.

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3. Sometimes strangers make the best of friends

Dining at Bushmans Kloof’s Kadoro Lodge, ‘Kadoro’ meaning ‘tinderbox of stories’, the stories flow as the name implies, around the campfire, and inside around the dinner table with the other guests and guides. With new faces and new tales, in a rustic, secluded cottage in the heart of the reserve, the experience is quite remarkable. Outside, the milkyway reminds you of how it feels to be wholly stumped by the grandiosity of the world, a world that’s always there (and that is better when shared).

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4. “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch…

…a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ― Leo Buscaglia

Take the time to run your hands through the plants in the gardens at the reserve, praise the men and women who have tended to them so well and in such a remote environment. Savour the meals and be quicker to thank than to complain. Consider the lives of the people that make your experience possible and honour them with your time or through Packing for a Purpose… Don’t underestimate your role.

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Bushmans Kloof

5. Make time for a little monkey play

After all, in the words of Roald Dahl, “A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.” A wise lesson from the baboons of the Cederberg…

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6. “Relax your body, and the rest of you will lighten up.” 

– Haruki Murakami.

If you’re struggling with number one on our list, start with the body and the mind will follow… The Bushmans Kloof experience is all about relaxation, of body and mind, from the freedom of roaming the bush with no threat of predators to the riverside spa. 

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Little Wisdoms of Bushmans Kloof

7. Accepting our differences

Many different things have been said about difference… From the negative – “If you are different from the rest of the flock, they bite you.” ― Vincent O’Sullivan – to the positive – “We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.” ― Bill Clinton.

Either way, much can be learnt about accepting our differences from the animal kingdom, from wildernesses like Bushmans Kloof, where different species live side by side, in harmony.

Bushmans Kloof

8. “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…

…No time to stand beneath the boughs / And stare as long as sheep or cows. / No time to see, when woods we pass, / Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass. / No time to see, in broad daylight, / Streams full of stars, like skies at night. / No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, / And watch her feet, how they can dance. / No time to wait till her mouth can / Enrich that smile her eyes began. / A poor life this is if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare.” – Leisure by William H Davies.

Take the time to see in the morning and watch the coming of night, and in between, in the rush of day, slow down and take a proper look at your surroundings.

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9. “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”

So said Jose Ortega y Gassett. You know about the state of Greece and the split of Bennifer, but do you know the names of these plants?

Be aware of what you give your attention to… It is what defines your life.

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10. “Time is the raw material of creation… 

Our final little wisdom, inspired by the hard-working Bushmans Kloof Riel dancers and band. Meet the people behind our last lesson in our blog, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. In the words of Kevin Ashton, from Creative People Say No…

“Time is the raw material of creations. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.” 

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Let us know what your #bklittlewisdoms are, if you’ve travelled to this part of South Africa before.