Boasting one of South Africa’s largest collections of primate species, the Mystic Monkeys and Feathers Wildlife Park is not a typical zoo in the city.
Its animals live unconstrained and are able to move around freely in their natural habitat.
Based at the Genius Loci Game Ranch in the Limpopo province, the wildlife park is home to 33 primate species and it has a large collection of chimpanzees, and it also has 27 different types of exotic birds and rarely seen animals such as lemurs and sloths.
Some of the birds found in the wildlife park include variations of toucan, cockatoo, macaw and eclectus birds.
The unique wildlife park recently made headlines after it welcomed its second baby monkey on 13 July, born to an exotic Angolan colobus monkey Kiki.
The first colobus monkey(Colobus guereza) to be born in South Africa was Essie, to her Angolan mother Zeta in April.
Zani Olivier, the wild park’s marketing manager, says they are excited by the arrival of the two babies. “We are very excited, because these two baby monkeys born here, are the only ones of their type in South Africa.”
As Olivier explains, when the colobus monkey is born, its fur is first white in colour, which then darkens to a grey and after three months, the young animal starts developing the black and white fur, this she says, makes them very unique.
The name colobus is derived from the Greek word meaning, mutilated, as unlike other species of monkeys, the colobus monkey doesn’t have thumbs on its feet or hands.
Other interesting features of the colobus monkey are its behavioural patterns.
According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), of all African monkeys, the colobus is the only monkey rarely seen on the ground, as it usually suspends itself on a tree.
Its movement is usually swinging from tree to tree and it can swing up to 50 feet (15m).
“They leap up and then drop downward, falling with outstretched arms and legs to grab the next branch. Their mantle hair and tails are believed to act as a parachute during these long leaps,” reads AWF’s website.
Colobus monkeys prefer to live in groups of about five to 10 animals, usually consisting of a dominant male, several females, and their offspring.
Essie and the yet to be named newborn monkey, are siblings from the same father Lacoste, a monkey of Angolan origin.
Lacoste, Zeta and Kiki were bought from their previous owner in the Czech Republic, although all three were born in Angola.
The wild life park was started six years ago when the owner of the Genius Loci, Christa Saayman, started collecting different exotic monkeys and birds as a hobby.
However, as her collection grew, Saayman decided to apply for a Nature Conservation Board (NCB) permit to have the animal collection classified as a zoo.
The NCB regulates permits for the capture, hosting or hunting of animals, fishing, as well as the growing, exporting or picking of plants and trade in endangered species in South Africa.
One of the services that they offer at the wild life park is an animal therapy centre.
Olivier, Genius Loci’s marketing manager and animal specialist, administers the therapy to those who’ve had traumatic experiences, who suffer from depression, anxiety, anger, neuroticism or even insomnia.
During animal therapy, Olivier works on stimulating the endorphin levels, which stimulate the “feel good” hormone serotonin.
Adults and kids are encouraged to engage with animals for the therapy to work.
Animals used during therapy are horses, monkey, lion and cheetah cubs, birds, cats and dogs.
The animal therapy sessions have attracted clients from around the world, and sessions are now offered on a weekend, weekly, or monthly packages.
Included in the therapy package are spa treatments at the famous Mangwanani African Spa, which are thought to have a healing element.
In addition to the spa treatments, patients who attend the animal therapy sessions are treated to healthy food for the duration of their stay, are encouraged to get plenty of rest and have scheduled contact time with the animals on a therapeutic level.
According to Emthunzini (a Zulu word meaning “in the shade”), a non-profit organisation that helps abused children and traumatised animals; animal therapy can have far reaching on humans.
“Children who haven't spoken for years due to trauma have uttered their first words to horses and dolphins.
“Those who have been so abused that they are scared to be touched by a human have shown their first sign of emotions and love to animals,” reads their website.
According to the organisation, animal assisted therapy has been proven to work for both children and adults in South Africa and other parts of the world.