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Kari Bagnall Interview

March 12, 2011

Kari Bagnall

12 March 2011

Kari Bagnall is founder and director of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, a non-profit organization offering a safe haven for monkeys in need of permanent sanctuary care.

Kari was working as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children when a ‘pet’ monkey named Samantha was place in her care in 1993. Soon after Samantha came into Kari’s life, more monkeys followed and Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary was born.

Kari was introduced to a vegetarian lifestyle nearly 40 years ago when she moved into a yoga ashram in Phoenix. Today, vegetarian communal living is a part of the Jungle Friends experience for interns and volunteers from around the world.

Jungle Friends is home to over 100 new-world monkeys. Most were cast off from the exotic pet trade, others were retired from laboratory research and some were confiscated by the authorities.

As part of the sanctuary culture, people are encouraged to adopt a vegan lifestyle, to have compassion for all of the Earth’s remarkable inhabitants, and to join in the hope that these individual acts of kindness across species will one day reach the ‘critical mass’ needed to transform the world.

ARZone: Hi Kari, Shannon Keith’s upcoming film SANCTUARY is due for release in early 2012. Shannon has filmed some of this at Jungle Friends, and will use some of the monkeys who live at Jungle Friends in her film. I’m a fan of Shannon’s films for a number of reasons, but I believe they have the potential of sending a strong educational message to the general public. Is there a particular message you hope to be received by the public from SANCTUARY?

Kari Bagnall: Actually, SANCTUARY will feature the lives of 5 of the Jungle Friends monkeys, how they lived prior to arriving at the sanctuary and their lives here now.

What we hope to accomplish with this film is to have it shown in theatres. We don’t want another ‘animal rights’ film that only ‘animal rights’ people watch. We want to engage the mainstream. We want the general public to know what is going on!

I feel that most people are compassionate and caring and if they only knew what was happening, they would join forces with us to stop the horrific use of animals on the planet. Here is the link for more information about SANCTUARY

Be sure to scroll down and watch the trailer – it is very powerful!

I would like to ask about “monkids” – monkeys who are stolen from their mothers, literally out of the arms of their mothers, in the wild.
Babies who can stay on the back of their mothers and nurse for up to two years; who are “adopted” by humans who treat them as children, even if they happen to survive into adulthood.

These monkeys, who are often kept indoors for the majority of their lives, will eventually attack the person who imprisons them, for obvious reasons.

They are kept in diapers for the majority of their lives, which causes skin irritations, loss of hair and other problems.  They can be castrated, have their teeth and claws pulled out, just to name a few of the injustices these monkeys are made to endure.   This is dreadfully wrong on many levels and violates almost every right that these monkeys should be accorded as individuals, to live on their own terms.

What percentage of the monkeys at Jungle Friends make up discarded “monkids” and what is being done to educate humans about this?

Thanks for the question. MOST – about 70% of the Jungle Friends monkeys were kept as ‘pets’. Most of our outreach presentations and media coverage focus on the message that monkeys are not appropriate pets.

By focusing on the true stories of our Jungle Friends monkeys, we illustrate the cruel reality of the exotic pet trade.  “My Child is a Monkey”, which National Geographic aired again last week, is just one example where Jungle Friends was featured on national television – you can view it at

You will see breeders stealing the mother’s babies and ignorant humans putting lipstick on their ‘pet’ monkey and dressing them up in ridiculous outfits. Notice the monkeys in the program who have NO teeth!  Many ex-pet monkeys arrive at Jungle Friends with diseases related directly to living in captivity – diabetes, bone disease, heart disease, cancer, auto-immune disorders and other physical ailments.  Because they were stolen from their natural mothers, they did not get the benefit of mother’s milk, and most were not fed an appropriate diet, which is why we have so many diabetics.  We have one monkey who gets daily insulin injections and several others on oral medications.  Fortunately, most of our diabetics no longer require medication.

Having a proper diet and an environment that allows plenty of exercise playing with other monkeys keeps their diabetes under control.  Monkeys also arrive with many psychological problems. They rock, self grasp, digit suck and sometimes even self-attack and self-mutilate, which is very difficult to curb.

We have had great success with homeopathic remedies, herbs and aroma therapies, and changing their environment by moving them to different habitats and introducing new neighbors or companions.  But sometimes medical intervention is needed. We have one monkey who literally bit off the end of his tail and a finger! He is now on Prozac and doing very well.

Our medical supplies, medications and veterinary expenses last year averaged nearly $1200 a month!

After visiting a local primate sanctuary here in Texas, I was horrified to hear the many stories of abuse and neglect that landed their primates into the sanctuary – and they were relatively speaking, the lucky ones. How do you transition monkeys into sanctuary life and what can one expect as far as quality of life for them there?

At Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary we offer them a chance to be monkeys. We want them to engage in monkey activities with other monkeys.  Most of the monkeys were species isolated before they arrived; many have never seen another monkey since the day they were ripped from their mother’s arms.

We introduce them and socialize them with other monkeys of the same or like species. This can be a slow, difficult process.   But once they have monkey companions they start acting like monkeys — grooming, foraging, climbing, swinging, brachiating and most importantly – playing.    We consider the ‘play state’ the highest state a primate can achieve – this goes for the human primate too!   We have Monkey Movies on our website to show how the monkeys live here at Jungle Friends. One of my favorites is “Rainforest Reunion.”
Thank you for the question.

The title of Melanie Joy’s book is “Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows” implying that people love some animals, perhaps as they love their family.  in your experience, do people love the animals they keep as pets, or do they just like using them for companionship or to fill some void, only to discard them when it is no longer convenient?

Well, what I have noticed is that some humans have a skewed idea of love. CJ, our office manager, wrote an article called “Loving them to Death” here is the link to the article

And yes, I believe that many humans ‘use’ monkeys and other animals, for companionship and to fill a void, which doesn’t mean they do not ‘love’ them.  Unfortunately for everyone involved, the monkeys grow up and become unpredictable and dangerous – the monkeys pay the ultimate price. Many pay with their lives!

There are those who say that because your efforts focus on New World Monkeys the general public will get the impression that you value the lives and freedoms of these individuals more than the lives and freedoms of all other animals.  According to this view, this confuses the general public and helps perpetuate the eating of other animals who aren’t the subject of the kinds of efforts you undertake on behalf of primates. How would you respond to such criticism?

Thanks for the question!  Actually, I have worked with many species of animals over the years, including the human animal. There are so many animals in need of homes that most of the credible sanctuaries are at capacity. If someone calls me with a macaque, for example, I refer them to a sanctuary that houses macaques so they will have an appropriate companion.

There are also animals who carry viruses that are deadly to others. For example, cats can have toxoplasmosis that is deadly to squirrel monkeys, tamarins and marmosets. And the squirrel monkeys carry a natural virus that can be deadly to marmosets and tamarins, and macaques can carry Herpes B which can deadly even to humans. Not to mention the predator/prey issues.  So, there are lots of legitimate reasons that you must be specific about which species you care for and find out as much as you can about each species so you are not putting anyone at risk.

There are two sanctuary accreditation associations; Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and American Sanctuary Association . We all work together to find homes for animals in need, whether the animal is a chicken, bunny, lion or bear.

At Jungle Friends we have an initiative called ‘Volunteers to Vegans’, you can find out more about this program at this link  We also have an intern program and many of our interns arrive as omnivores and leave here as militant vegans, we are very proud of our accomplishments guiding people toward a more compassionate lifestyle.

We also do screenings for films like Skin Trade, The Cove, Behind the Mask and Earthlings,   at this link you will see the reactions of some of our volunteers after watching EARTHLINGS

Jungle Friends puts in a lot of effort to provide large habitats for the individuals who live there. Those habitats are outside in the beautiful Florida weather and filled with natural and man-made enrichment. Can you tell us why you go to all this trouble and explain how conditions are different at other sanctuaries?

There are many different philosophies, even throughout the sanctuary community. I have been called ‘over the top’ because we spend a lot of time on personalizing the monkeys’ habitats. They love to climb trees, eat bamboo, swing on vines and ropes and forage through the grass and mulch.  So, we spend a lot of time not only cleaning the habitats, but replanting and offering them fun things to do.

We give blankets to the monkeys who are used to covering up or who are alone and don’t have another monkey to snuggle with.  We also call them by name, break up fights and try to accommodate them with compatible companions, and we get them veterinary care when needed.

Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary isn’t open to the general public, and the primates never leave the property except when absolutely necessary for medical care.  Considering that all your funding comes from donations, it would seem like it would be in your best interest to allow public access and to show off the monkeys (perhaps at special events). Why do you not do this?

One of the main reasons we are not open to the public is that many of the monkeys are anxious around new people; a lot of visitors coming and going can be upsetting, especially for the monkeys who were ‘used’ in laboratory research. Some of them simply have no use for humans.

Jungle Friends is the monkeys’ home and their comfort and well-being is our top priority. They deserve so much more than we are able to give them – they were born to be wild, so we try to provide them with as much enjoyment and as little stress as possible! The “Monkey Movies” on our website give the public a way to see our monkeys close up, and we try to keep a good flow of current news and short videos through our Facebook pages.

Of course, the best way to see Jungle Friends is to work here! Jungle Friends runs on volunteer-power.  For information about our volunteer programs and internship opportunities, go to We have had visitors from all over the country and the world come to volunteer at Jungle Friends for a day, a weekend or longer. Thanks for the question!

As a vegan working in the age of recession, how do you keep funds flowing into your organization without alienating the public and without compromising your own vegan ethics?

We are certainly facing our share of challenges as far as fundraising, but I believe most of our supporters are animal activists who support our beliefs and  even if they are not vegan, I feel that they appreciate that we do care for all animals and are NOT speciesists

Of course we have the odd person who stops donating because they feel Jungle Friends is too ‘animal rights’, but I cannot concern myself with trying to please those who think we should not be compassionate toward all animals. I send them vegan videos and explain my philosophies and that is all I can do. They will donate or not donate, they will be alienated or they will see our views, but we will not compromise our ethics.

The Jungle Friends website mentions “Volunteers to Vegans” and says that you encourage people to adopt a vegan life. What do you find are the most effective ways to reach out to other people to help them become vegan?

Education. I believe if people knew where their meat came from and the abuse that is inherent in the industry and realized that humans do not need to eat meat, they would adopt a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. And if you can get them to watch EARTHLINGS, that will usually do it!  It is getting them to watch it that is the trick. One group of students we showed it to thought they were going to watch a science fiction film. I didn’t correct them.

Before you moved to Florida, in addition to having primates at your sanctuary in Las Vegas, you also cared for some “big cats”. That sounds like quite a challenge! Would you tell us what that was like, and why you no longer care for those incredible creatures?

Actually, in Vegas we had cougars and snakes and farm animals, oh my!  People were dropping off all sorts of animals. It was quite a challenge figuring out what each animal ate and how to care for them all. I also took in animals that were confiscated by Fish and Wildlife. Unfortunately, they were almost always returned to the abusers! I no longer have big cats and other carnivores because I had trouble figuring out how I could feed them consistent with my personal ethics. I found appropriate permanent homes for them.

Most of the monkeys at Jungle Friends are former “pets”, but you have a number of primates who were used for medical research. What are your feelings about experimentation on animals and do the primates who have been subject to those kinds of things have special needs now, beyond the others?

We are opposed to the use of animals for research. As far as the monkeys’ special needs, it really depends on the research and the situation; basically, all monkeys have trouble in captivity. I don’t think the human animal is faring too well in captivity either!  We do have 9 capuchins who were captured as adolescents from their rainforest homes, stolen from their families and ‘used’ in iron-overload research for nearly 20 years! They were kept species isolated in small cages in the lab and they have been very difficult to socialize with other monkeys and don’t care much for the human species either, as you can imagine.

You’re trying to raise money now for an expansion project. How many monkeys are on your waiting list, and how often do your hear about primates who need a home?

We currently have 30 monkeys on our waiting list, which includes 12 who are in research. I get calls several times a week for monkeys in need of forever homes.

Unfortunately, many of these monkeys do not have time to “wait it out If an appropriate home is not available within their time limit, they may be killed, sold, or passed to another undesirable situation.  If we can raise the funds to purchase our expansion property, Jungle Friends can grow to accommodate hundreds more monkeys in desperate need.  Thanks for the question.

Most people who do the kind of work you do are vegan just like you, aren’t they?

Unfortunately, I have not found that to be true. There is still a disconnect.

Years ago, we had a huge debate amongst sanctuaries and shelters who were accredited by one of the sanctuary associations about serving animals at fundraisers or functions for sanctuaries or shelters.  We did make a rule that in order to be accredited by this association, you could NOT serve animals while trying to raise funds for other animals.  This sends the wrong message, i.e., this animal is for saving, this animal is for eating, and this animal is for wearing.

We are trying to get the good people in the animal sanctuary and shelter business to at least not abuse other animals, but sadly, it is not necessarily the norm.  However, being the eternal optimist, I feel that is the direction we are headed!

You often speak at animal rights conferences and vegan/vegetarian festivals; you know lots of people who are involved in these issues.    There seem to be different divisions within the AR movement, some of it quite acrimonious. Why is that, and is there anything we can do about it?

Like everything, there are extremes in both directions, from yin to yang. I am not sure what to do. On some days, I can be quite tolerant and debate the issues calmly and then other times I just want to scream!

I think everyone in the AR movement is in it for the right reasons and I do believe that in our hearts all any of us want to do is to make a difference for the animals we care so much about. We could certainly make more of a difference if we had a united front, and I think that is what we all have to strive to achieve. We are all individuals and have different philosophies, but in the end, we all want to help the animals, so we need to learn how to work better together.

Some people think there’s no way to change our fundamental relationship with other animals through legislative measures, at least in the short-term.  They see the regulation of the use of nonhuman animals as problematic because it codifies into law certain exploitative practices. I’m guessing that you would disagree with this,     and you’d think that we can create laws that will lead to the end of the exploitation of other animals. Am I guessing right, and, either way, would you explain how you feel about this issue?

Well, you can make laws all day long, but they also need to be enforceable. And people break the law all the time. My hope is for a tipping point, where everyone knows it is wrong to abuse and enslave animals, law or no law.

I think we need to teach others. We weren’t born knowing the abuses to animals. Someone took the time to teach us, or at least bring it to our attention.  I remember one time I went to a 2-day workshop at an animal sanctuary and one of the attendees noticed that I had Colgate toothpaste.  I did not know that Colgate tested on animals. She told me about a book that the National Anti-Vivisection Society had listing all of the companies who tested on animals, and I really appreciated the guidance.

When I got into the ‘monkey business’ I had never even heard of the word ‘vivisection’. I was totally in the dark on so many issues. I also used to take animals to schools to teach the kids about ‘saving the rainforest’. I took my baby monkey, a cockatoo and usually a snake or two.  I was asked by another sanctuary founder if I thought I was sending the right message; I told her that I was teaching children to recycle, not to eat fast food burgers and to appreciate the animals who lived in the forests.

The next time I did a presentation, I paid attention to the questions. Sure enough, I was sending the wrong message…the first question was, “Where can I buy a monkey?”

I now do PowerPoint Presentations instead.  Fortunately, I have had wonderful mentors; I have also had a few hostile people telling me how wrong I was, and truly, I think we all learn better from someone who is being kind and understanding, rather than screaming at us, and I know how difficult it can be not to scream!

As a former CASA worker, you must be familiar with protecting the vulnerable caught inside flawed systems of care. Similarly, your current work seems to mirror that as you reach out to those animals who have been unjustly trapped by flawed thinking and unfair practices.  How do you maintain a positive attitude while dealing with such overwhelming injustice?

The CASA kids certainly fell through the cracks. I just spoke to my very first CASA kid last week – here we are nearly 20 years later and she is all grown up,  has children of her own and is doing great! She tells me what a difference I made in her life, and how she appreciates animals because I was her CASA.

She knew me when I was getting started rescuing animals. So, you just never know what kind of a difference you can make.  And yes, the monkeys certainly fall into the same category – they fall through the cracks. In the animal world, we call some of the animals ‘sexy’, you can probably guess which animals are ‘sexy’, the great apes, bears, tigers, elephants.  Well, you get the picture – the monkeys just are not ‘sexy’.

The monkeys are also not familiar, like a companion animal, most people do not know about the 20,000+ monkeys being imported into research labs every year.   Monkeys are certainly under-represented and unseen, and are often ignored as they suffer in research & as ‘pets’. Ah, but your question is how do I stay so positive…well, I was just born that way!

I was once asked to describe myself in one word and the first word that came to mind was ‘HAPPY’! I believe in silver linings and I believe that most people want to do the right thing.

We need to educate others, offer assistance and let kindness be our guide.

What was the worst situation you’ve seen?

I would have to say probably Jimmy Snr was one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen. He was confiscated by the USDA, he was on display in a pet shop. The “owner” was charged with abuse and given the choice to pay a $15k fine or allow Jimmy to go to a sanctuary home. He opted for the latter.

The USDA people called and asked if I wanted him. The reason they were asking was because he had basically gone mad. He couldn’t make eye contact and I was told he was pretty much comatose.

I told them he could come to Jungle Friends and stare into space here, which he did, and he met old Chi Chi, an old circus monkey. They became fast friends, are still together today, and Jimmy is quite the character.

Whenever a man walks by his habitat, he gathers up mulch or twigs or bark, whatever he can grab to throw at the man  The men are instructed to fall to the ground if Jimmy hits them, and he ALWAYS hits them, He never misses! When they fall to the ground he jumps 3 feet in the air with excitement!

Through working and volunteering at Jungle Friends for some time now, I know the only constant thing is change. How is your expansion project coming along and what are your other future plans for the sanctuary? And what is the best way we can support Jungle Friends in achieving your goals?

For the expansion project, we need money!   There are 20 acres adjacent to Jungle Friends that we hope to purchase and the cost is $250 000, so if someone could just send in a check for that amount now, that would be nice!

How many animals reside at Jungle Friends?

120 monkeys, 6 dogs, 4 birds, 1 kinkajou and 6 humans.

Thank you for what you are doing, so many people talk about animal rights, you are actually do something!!!  It seems like what you do is like rescue work, saving those who have no good choices left. What do you think of people who rescue minks from mink farms or take chickens from their cages?

I applaud anyone who rescues any animals.

Some detractors claim there is ‘no such thing as vegan’, pointing to the fact that animal derivatives are used in a wide range of products, from medicines to rubber to tennis racquet strings. How do we respond to this?

That’s a difficult question, and the only thing I can say to that is that I practice Ahimsa, which is a Sanskrit word, loosely translated to mean “do the least harm” I think most of us in the movement strive to do the least harm, and really, that’s all we can do

What advice would you give to young people who are passionate about animal rights and/or veganism?

My advice is a little partial. I think that young people should intern or volunteer at sanctuaries or shelters and learn as much as they possibly can about the problems. Get educated so they can speak intelligently on the topic, and we are always looking for interns at Jungle Friends!

Do interns return to the sanctuary for multiple “tours of duty”?

Yes, interns and volunteers return for multiple tours of duty all the time!! The monkeys get under your skin, once you’ve met them and gotten to know them, you will have a personal relationship. Maybe not with all 120 of them, but certainly with more than a few!  You can look in their eyes and see the intelligence. I don’t know how to describe the feeling you get working with these magnificent animals. I am so lucky to be able to have this as my life’s work.

Thank you Kari for the fantastic work you’re doing at Jungle Friends. I hope you will be able to expand soon so you can save lots more lucky individuals. Well done for that, and also thanks for being here today to tell us about it.

Thank you!


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