Volunteer Experiences

Volunteer helping monkeys, read a book with a monkey

Our time at The Primate Trust - April 2015

Hayley cuddling Tufty
Hayley cuddling Tufty
When we first heard about Primate Trust, we were so excited and keen to get to Camurlim, Goa and see all the amazing animals.

Arriving at the Trust in April 2015 was even more incredible. We were blown away by the beautiful scenery of rural Goa surrounding the sanctuary. It was only a short ride from the busy scene of northern Goa, and so serene and tranquil.

We were lucky enough to live on sight in the guesthouse for volunteers. It was literally a unique and once in a life time opportunity. We were right in the heart of rural Goa and so close to all the animals. The room was spacious, with a kitchen and living room. Jo even provided a television for us. At times the room was very warm; however there was a ceiling fan and Jo also provided us with another portable fan which was brilliant. The staff provided us with unlimited tea, coffee and fruit and also a delicious vegetarian meal every day, followed by a fruit salad. Also included in our accommodation fee was free laundry. We were given 2 days off a week, which meant we could go and explore other areas of Goa, whilst only taking a small bag on our scooter, keeping most of our stuff at the base. On top of all these highlights for travelers, there was the daily work with monkeys; an offer we couldn't refuse!

Daily tasks
Our daily duties involved cleaning the cages in the morning and distributing breakfast. The cages were swept, washed and also sprayed with disinfectant to ensure the health and wellbeing of the monkeys. It was fun (also tiring!) cleaning the cages because we had to ensure the monkeys would move into alternative cage in order for us to clean theirs- which was always a funny task as they are so clever and could often refuse to budge! I had so much respect from day one for the staff that do this day to day, working with these animals truly takes hard work and dedication. After cleaning, we would make some toys for the monkeys. This was crucial to ensure they had lots to keep them busy and stimulated, particularly monkeys that were alone due to not being able to have another monkey in with them.

We were provided delicious masala chai and snacks during our 11 am lunch break. It was a lovely time to relax and break from the morning heat and work, and socialize with the other members of staff. Lunch was also a highlight due to having home cooked vegetarian meal with rice and popadoms, followed by fruit salad and the option to make some smoothies. It truly was such a treat to receive such an authentic experience, surrounded by beautiful countryside and animals.

During the afternoon after a typical morning making toys, cleaning out cages, sorting fruit and veg (if it had been market day!) the afternoon consisted of interacting more so with the primates. I was lucky enough (being female) to interact with the baby langurs: Pan and Nisa. I would go into their cage, most likely with a mango syringe or some biscuits, and sit and watch them play. It was such a wonderful experience being so close to these amazing creatures and watching them interact. Eventually, Pan and Nisa would approach me, sit on my knee, and particularly Nisa would let me groom her with a hair brush. With the help and guidance from Jo, we also made some great toys, particularly a box with treats, which the langurs would dive in and out of spending endless hours having fun.

Nagesh, the main handler of the macaque monkeys would often take the macaques for a swim in the afternoon, something which, as volunteers, we were really excited to get involved with. My boyfriend was able to handle more than me, as most of them do not respond great to women, however confident and experienced handlers would have no problem. I took a shining to an old macaque male called Tuffty, who would often groom and cuddle me for an hour before we got in the water. During the water he would continue to groom and occasionally swim under the water and crawl up my leg to perch back on my head. I would love to find out what he was finding and eating out of my hair! The younger macaques, such as Dixie and Dennis had such high energy and were great fun. They enjoyed running and jumping into the pool, often most likely on to your head! At all times Nagesh, or another experienced male, stayed close by and the monkeys were on a light lead to ensure their safety and staff safety. It was a magnificent yet humbling experience.

Guest House & Surrounding Area
We lived on site at the Tree House, the bottom of the hill from the main house. It was a beautiful house surrounded by nature. Although the room was hot a times, Jo provided us with an additional fan and mosquito repellent. We had a bathroom and kitchen & fridge, living room and television. We also hired a scooter which meant from 5pm onwards, after we finished our shift, we could go out and explore Northern Goa. We would either stay local in the village, or go to the local main city for food, or go to the beaches where the majority of tourists hangout and have beach parties. It really was great having such a mixture of everything, whilst staying somewhere so tranquil.

At the end of our volunteering, we reflected on how tiring yet exhilarating the whole experience had been. I have a new found respect for people that work with these creatures, to care for their physical and mental wellbeing day in and out. Jo is a fantastic lady and inspirational in how she runs the Trust, maintaining a humble and modest approach to caring for animals and running a charity. It is truly all about the animals and staff. To top it off, were the 16 cats at the Trust and the 5 lovely dogs that also made it a dream for any animal lover. I just hope we get to go back there one day soon

Hayley Keight
Manchester, UK
April 2015

Céline Schlegel - June / September 2014

Celine, Nissa and Dixie
Celine, Nissa and Dixie
One should definitely have experienced taking the ownership of this place to realize the personal investment and energy that implies. What we have lived for the last four months has been Jo and John everyday life for the last 9 years. There is always an animal to care for, things to fix, solutions to find. You end up devoting your entire life to it.

The arrival of Nissa was definitely the highlight of the experience. I never imagined I would experience such complicity with a monkey. We accompanied her 24 hours during two and a half months. She slept on our chests, over our heads, in our necks. We changed a lot of nappies, cleaned a lot of pee and pooh. She pulled our hair and gave us lots of slaps. She made us laugh, laugh a lot. Without saying a word, we speak the same language, she knows what she wants and how to express it. After being so close, it's hard to imagine that in a few years, her wild instinct will take over and no-one will be able to approach her, not even the person who has mothered and accompanied her during her first years.

Thank you Jo and John for this amazing experience. Thank you for trusting us in the care of your house with 42 monkeys, 5 dogs and 13 cats.

Céline Schlegel

Elisa Valenti - July / August 2014

"Look at her! Isn't she lovely? Isn't she the cutest baby you have ever seen in the whole world?"

... And after I pronounce these words some of my friends and relatives would give me a strange look because I am actually showing them the picture not of a human baby but of a baby monkey. Indeed Nisa is really the cutest baby (monkey) I have ever seen!
Nisa and Ocra
Nisa and Ocra

However, my "relationship" with Nisa was not exactly love at first sight. If you live in Italy (as I do), the wildest animals you are probably used to deal with are your dogs and cats. That was at least my situation and I didn't accustom immediately to having a little monkey climbing my body. I really did not know how to handle her!

Then magic just happened! Suddenly playing with her became just normal, I felt I was able to understand her and I really started having great fun. If something suddenly scared her, she would jump into my arms and it would feel so nice to feel to be able to protect her. I loved also walking around and having her seated on my shoulder. I used to say that I felt like a pirate, but instead of having a parrot on my shoulder, I had Nisa.

I would like to be able to describe better what an amazing and fulfilling time I had, but I think that the beauty of volunteering with monkeys can be fully understood just if you try it. What I can say is that despite I lived at the Tree House just for few weeks I feel like I left a piece of my heart there and that one day I will go back to India to see little Nisa again.

Elisa Valenti (Italy)

Lydia and Lihini - 2014

We spent two months volunteering at Primate Trust and wow, what an amazing unique experience. Our main roles were helping with making enrichment items for the monkeys as well as babysitting 3 juveniles (Dixie - the cutest little terror, Silver - the quiet but mischievous one, and Parker - the okra addict!). It was a fun an educational experience, observing behaviours of the monkeys and learning about the various ways on improving life in captivity. We would highly recommend volunteering with Primate Trust as you get the opportunity to get up close and personal with these amazing species as well as support a great cause. John, Jo, and the rest of the staff are all highly committed in insuring the best possible care is given to the monkeys. They are truly dedicated to this cause and it was an honour to be a part of it.

Tom Webb - January 2014

Dixie, The Baby Female Macaque
Tom, reading a book with Tufty
I came to Goa for the first time in 2012 to do some volunteer work with a children's charity. I was looking to do some work with animals in my spare time so went down to International Animal Rescue to see if I could help with walking dogs. I saw a poster about helping out with primates. I had always wanted to get close to monkeys so I made contact with John and he invited me to his house to have a look and meet all the monkeys.

Within a couple of hours I was sat by the pool with a couple of monkeys to walk! I was told not to take any nonsense from them as they try to get the upper hand with anyone they can, especially newcomers! Apparently I was a natural......

I spent one day a week during my first visit. Any amount of time you can commit on a regular basis is very welcome.

I found myself back home in England, the winter drawing in and I needed to get away! I emailed John to see if I could come back as a full time volunteer for a few months, I was very happy that he said yes!

I stayed on site in a separate little house at the bottom of the drive. It's a basic house with a couple of bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen, bathroom. There is satellite TV available if you stay a while. It's great to have your own space in the evenings. The Tree House is quite remote in a lovely quiet village. It really helps if you get a scooter, but there are regular buses to Mapusa also.

As a full time volunteer I got involved with everything! There is cleaning the pens to do, helping with feeding, going to the market to buy all the fruit and veg, and of course playing and swimming with the monkeys! One of my favorite things to do was to work on the environmental enrichment. It's so great to see them swinging on a new toy or working out how to get food out of something you have made for them.

As I write this I am at the Tree House for the third time, just a short visit unfortunately. John and Jo have always made me feel so welcome. They love to share their world with anyone who has a genuine interest in primates and animals in general. I consider it my second home........

Céline Schlegel - January 2014

Dixie, The Baby Female Macaque
Dixie, The Baby Female Macaque
I discovered The Primate Trust through International Animal Rescue which had a stall on the Anjuna flea market. After contacting John, he invited me to visit the centre. As an animal lover, I've always wanted to dedicate some of my time, but never found the right place, nor the right moment for it. Staying in Goa for two months, this looked like an amazing opportunity to approach and learn more about primates.

A few days after I started volunteering, the centre rescued two baby monkeys including a baby female macaque. At just a few months old, Dixie is staying in John's bedroom and have 24 hour care. From that day, I have spent every afternoon with her and keeping her company. I just loved watching her behaviour, helping her open green beans, playing and letting her sleep in my arms.

After a week, I was able to take her out for walks where she loved making a mess with flowers in the garden. Day after day I felt more complicity and seen the progress she made in acclimatization to her new environment. Aside from a bed, Johns room didn't look much like a bedroom. Bamboos, branches, ropes and hanging toys were added to make it the perfect monkey Disneyland. Dixie loves jumping from one place to another and knocking me down when jumping on my head. She is such an entertainment!

This was my first volunteering experience with animals and I appreciated the way both Jo and John open their house to volunteers, giving them the opportunity to come as per their own availability and letting them the freedom to do what they feel the most comfortable with. Some are helping the staff with the daily monkey care (walking, feeding, cleaning), while others are coming up with ingenious idea of recycling any item into monkey toys.

More and more monkeys are being rescued and the Tree House is not getting any bigger. I hope the government supports them and provides a piece of land so they can expand their help for these delightful creatures.

Céline Schlegel, Switzerland

Monica - October 2013

Monica with Pug
Monica with Pug
In October of 2013, I arrived in Goa with two months ahead of me, and I knew that I wanted to spend some of that time volunteering somewhere. Having worked with primates off and on for the last ten years, I decided to contact John; he and Jo welcomed me into their project wholeheartedly from the moment I arrived. I spent my time at the Primate Trust helping to clean, preparing enrichment, taking photos for the project, and working on other miscellaneous projects. Having worked with quite a few other primate rescue and rehab projects around the world, I can say without a sliver of doubt that not only does John LOVE the monkeys he cares for, but he also respects them as individuals. I am in awe of what John and Jo do; there are very few people that do this kind of work in India. And yet, someone has to get the performing monkeys off the beaches and promenades.

I don't think it is a widely known fact, but the following is very important to keep in mind: just like humans primates, monkey mothers are fiercely devoted to protecting their infants. The only way to get an infant monkey from her mother is to kill the mother. Could you imagine? Fortunately, John and Jo are there to provide a home for these orphans, and they are also equipped to help guide them out from their psychological trauma. Until all performing monkeys are rescued, there will be a need for a center like The Primate Trust. Thank goodness they are there.

Veena & Merv - 2013

Monica with Pug
Merv at The Tree House
My experiences with the primate trust in Goa are varied and enjoyable together with an education into the day to day requirements of different species of Indian monkeys. My wife Vina and myself were introduced to john and jo as volunteers to help with walking and exercising the monkeys on a weekly basis. After some weeks passed we found that attachments and relationships with the sociable monkeys were growing stronger and we then started visits two or three times a week. Vina became involved with creating enhancements for the animals and observed her work was teaching the monkeys how to work out puzzles to obtain treats inside the creations.

I found that one monkey in particular grew to trust me and my first stop every visit was to see ruby and take her for a walk or swim, thereafter she would sit with me and groom my hair for hours at a time.

It gave me immense satisfaction to know that a monkey that had had a traumatic experience in her earlier life could trust another human. Nearly all of the monkeys in johns care have had bad experiences with humans in their earlier lives and to see the enjoyment they have in their new surroundings with john and jo is a joy to view.

It is very difficult to match the dedication shown by john and jo but to know that each visit made by us to see our little friends would be a welcome from them to their world and share the day for mutual fulfilment.

To sum up, being given the opportunity to look after the monkeys has been an experience similar to caring for children and educating them as well as ourselves. Unforgettable memories.


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