A former employee of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary says the sanctuary is in shambles and numerous monkeys have died with no transparency around their deaths.
The nonprofit sanctuary is located in Gainesville, FL, and provides a home for monkeys retired from research, ex-pets, or monkeys confiscated by authorities, according to the Jungle Friends website.
Former employee Mike Enders said he was asked to work at Jungle Friends for one month to try to help improve the conditions. He said the sanctuary had been neglected and the primate habitats were overgrown. He was told the enclosures hadn’t been properly cleaned in years and the sanctuary needed his help to get things back up to standards.
Enders stayed at Jungle Friends two weeks longer than initially agreed on and left his position in Oct. 2020.
“I spoke up when I first left Jungle Friends and I was attacked by so many people,” he said. “I was actually in shock. People were worried about the owner’s reputation, not the animals.”
The sanctuary is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), an accrediting body that works with sanctuaries to provide a high standard of animal care, management, and governance, according to their website.
Enders said after he left his position at Jungle Friends he spoke with GFAS about his concerns.
“I was threatened and intimidated not to speak out and found myself backing down,” he said.
Enders said he has photos and videos that show animal neglect, including two capuchin monkeys that were living in moldy, feces-covered dens at the sanctuary.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected Jungle Friends in January 2021 and gave the sanctuary a non-critical violation for cleaning, sanitization, housekeeping, and pest control. In the report, the USDA inspector described enclosures housing capuchins that had mounds of peanut shells and feces that were growing mold.
Indoor enclosures for 10 tamarins contained an excess accumulation of waste, urine and discarded food, according to the report. Jungle Friends was ordered to correct the violations by Feb 1.
However, Enders said those violations have not been corrected.
“My concerns are now even greater with the sanctuary’s deadly silence,” he said.
He said he learned a monkey named Wendell died in December but Wendell’s death was not publicly disclosed.
“Wendell deserves a better legacy than to disappear in silence,” he said.
After Enders departure from the sanctuary, he remained in contact with current sanctuary employees who share his concerns for the well-being of the primates that live at Jungle Friends.
“I was told this morning that things have gotten even worse than when I was there,” he said. “Animals have died and they have been completely silent about it. I 100% believe it's because of neglect.”
He said the neglect isn’t because of malice, “but because the owners and management have made the work atmosphere so hostile and unpleasant that they are unable to keep staff for more than a few days, weeks at best.”
The staff shortages mean that on some days, more than 140 capuchins and 12 spider monkeys are being cared for by one person.
Enders said the staff shortages make it nearly impossible for sanctuary employees to perform health and wellness checks on all of the primates, while also cleaning and maintaining their habitats.
“I believe this is why some monkeys passed away over the winter,” he said. “There were not enough eyes on them to make sure they weren’t freezing from the cold because of outdated, busted and unsafe heaters.”
Current employees at Jungle Friends describe habitats filled with mounds of poop and cages so overgrown with weeds that it’s difficult to see the monkeys. Some monkey’s enclosures have not been cleaned in more than six months.
“Morale is at an all time low because we are not being heard or given any support...” an employee said.
The facility also has a rodent problem, with rats and mice infesting the buildings.
As a sanctuary accredited by GFAS, Enders said he is worried that speaking up for the animals may put him on thin ice, but he said the rules and standards at accredited sanctuaries need to be kept in check and enforced.
“Otherwise sanctuaries fall through the cracks unnoticed,” he said.
He questioned whether GFAS was letting things slide at Jungle Friends because options for improving the situation may not be available. He worries they’re failing to take action because there may not be enough homes for 300 primates if the sanctuary were to be shut down.
Enders said the biggest issue facing the sanctuary is the owner and he said the only solution is for her to be removed and replaced.
“Even good sanctuaries can lose their way,” he said. “The right thing to do would be to admit you are in over your head, own up, and ask for help. Transparency, truth and accountability is the only way to improve the situation.”
To ask the USDA to check on the animals at Jungle Friends Sanctuary, visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/complaint-form and use USDA license number 58-C-0667.
Jungle Friends January 2021 USDA Inspection Report: