Jim Cronin. MBE. Founder of MonkeyWorld ape rescue centre.
15th November 1951. 17th March 2007.
“MonkeyWorld”. A sprawling 65 acre ape rescue centre, nestled in the Dorset countryside, just outside Wareham. Known to millions through the ITV series “Monkey Business”, which has charted the lives of the inhabitants & their keepers for the last 10 years, the centre has an international reputation as a leader in it’s field. Governments & zoologists from around the globe consult the experts here on the conservation & protection of their native species. Today the site is home to some 160 primates from 13 countries. It boasts the largest population of Chimpanzees outside Africa & the most successful breeding group of Borneo Orangs beyond Borneo. Over half a million visitors a year file through the gates, bringing much needed revenue for the crusade against the hunting & torture of apes & hopefully leaving with a better understanding of our closest cousins.
Yet all this is the result of just one man’s dedication & determination. Jim Cronin was born in New York in 1951 to Irish/Italian parents & after attending school locally, took a succession of unremarkable odd jobs, before eventually finding employment in the Bronx Zoo’s primate department. In 1980 he moved to Britain to persue a job at John Aspinall’s Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury, Kent. Aspinall was a maverick, refusing to house his charges in the concrete & bars environments so common in zoos of the time & instead attempting to recreate the animals’ natural habitats. Apes were given huge beds of straw, open grassy enclosures, ropes & trees. This lead to hugely successful breeding. Jim thrived on this unconventional approach & soon took on responsibility for the breeding & conservation programme, despite having no formal zoology qualifications.
7 years later, in 1987, Jim had bought a former pig farm in Dorset & started rescuing chimps from Spain where they were kept in terrible conditions & used as beach photographer’s props. He believed fiercely in what he did & refused to back down in the face of verbal & physical assaults & local Government indifference. This uncompromising stance earnt him both grudging respect & notoriety, which Jim harnessed to focus media attention on the plight of the apes he championed. The Dorset centre opened to the public with just 9 chimps. From those humble beginnings, it’s become a World authority & regularly rescues apes from as far afield as Turkey & Taiwan.
Jim’s American wife, Dr Alison Ames, first visited MonkeyWorld to discuss enclosure fencing in 1993. Just 3 years later they were married & have been inseparable ever since, running the site jointly & equally passionate about the animals in their care. Their last rescue mission was to Cancun in Mexico in December 2006 to bring a photographer’s chimp named Bryan back to the safety of the Dorset centre. That same year Jim was awarded an MBE for services to animal welfare. He & Alison were in Queensland, Australia, negotiating the purchase of a 300 acre site as the beginning of a second MonkeyWorld centre, when Jim was suddenly taken ill. Tests showed he had an aggressive primary cancer of the liver. His health rapidly deteriorated & it was clear Jim wouldn’t be able to make it back to his beloved Dorset MonkeyWorld in one journey. Instead, Alison & he made their way to his home town of New York, where he began chemotherapy sessions. Less than 8 weeks later, aged 55 on 19th March 2007, Jim passed away with his wife & head keeper, Jeremy Keeling at his side.
MonkeyWorld was Jim’s home & his passion & all concerned have vowed to continue his work, with more missions planned to South America, continued talks on the Australian site & improvements being carried out at the original Dorset park.
Jim’s ashes have been interred at a memorial in the grounds of MonkeyWorld.