As part of my quest to see sanctuaries in Florida and around the world I managed to visit the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Now I must be upfront with you, I watched the news back in 2008 while in South Africa and they had a whole segment on this place and what they do for the primates no longer being able to be cared for as a personal pet or retiring from the laboratory and film industries.
Since then I have had them on my radar and I was really excited to meet with Debbie, the head caregiver of the sanctuary.
*Please note that some of the photos have had their enclosures removed during photo editing for aesthetic purposes..
I parked my car and took the short work towards the entrance and found myself feeling like I’d been transported to a mini jungle oasis. The trees and art work both on the walls and adorned outside were both quaint and inviting.
Right from the start I felt that I could spend many an hour hanging out in their beautiful setting. Although it appears rather small from the outside, when you enter you realize just how deceiving it is with it going as far back as bordering the Pinellas Trail with Picnic benches, fun selfie boards and more spots to sit a while. No that is not me in the photo above… I’m ever so slightly older…
The sanctuary, which started more than 50 years ago, only opened up to the public in 2008 and are strong believers in transparency and education. Any one of the many caregiver-volunteers you see at the sanctuary will answer any questions you may have, and if you know me I had many. They were patient and kind with passion for what they do and for the animals that are like family members to them.
The primates and other creatures
For starters I went there thinking that the sanctuary only had primates. I was so so wrong. Right at the start of my tour they took me to the enclosure where they keep Alligators and Turtles, reptiles that were once pets but for what ever reason are not pets anymore. These guys were all sunning themselves like best buddies, the alligator was even giving off a big grin…
I also didn’t expect to meet so many celebrities like Pongo above who was featured in the Mazda Car Commercial and Shawn from Amazing Animals. The minute we turned the corner Pongo started purring or “talking” in excitement and then when his favorite human came to give him a drink of water his big lovable face crumpled in pure happiness. With kisses and words of love we moved on to the oldest member of the family.
Beautiful Mugsy, who is well into her 60’s (ancient in human terms), has lived through more than I. Though she was alone in her cage she also gets to spend time with another macaques and I got to see her total happiness when she got a back rub and some pampering.
Another of the primates I got to meet was this innocent looking Olive Baboon who goes by the name of Alfie. He is probably the most notorious of the bunch after evading the FBI going on 5 years. He eventually found his way to SPS where he now enjoys hanging out with his buddies and caregivers. Just look at that face though… it’s as if he’s saying “yeah and???”
Birds? Yes lots of domestic birds of all shapes and sizes that found their way to the sanctuary either through abandonment or their owners passing on. These guys were so interactive and fun to watch, could totally see myself sitting for a while and discussing the intricacies of cookies.
On site they also have a separate area for the “Diabetes” Primates. This is the area where primates retired from medical testing come to find some happiness and much earned relaxation. They are less social due to what they have been through and thus their cages are placed away from the others until they are acclimatized.
This part was hard for me to see, the reality of the fact that animal testing still goes on to this day and what these poor creatures have gone through is not something that sits well with me. It was nice to see that these animals have a place to go to though, a place where they are loved and cared for the way they should be.
You ready to visit?
They are located along the old US 19 in Palm Harbor and right on the Pinellas Trail so if you want to take a bike ride out there to add a little more adventure I vote go for it! You can even bring a picnic to enjoy while hanging out with the animals!
I know even though you may want to there aren’t any opportunities to physically interact with the primates but on Saturdays (11am-2pm) you can meet with the caregivers and educational animals including reptiles.
Suncoast Primate Sanctuary is open Thursday through Sunday and tickets are in the form of donations, $10 will get you the adult through the door while children are $5 and Toddlers free.
Not sold yet?
The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary is definitely a fun place to visit for a morning, afternoon or even the whole day. You leave wanting to return, the friendliness and openness of the caregivers makes you feel like you want to join the team and the knowledge you walk away with invaluable.
Ultimately upon leaving I had a new understanding about the wonderful creatures that primates are. They are so human like in loving their ice popsicles, watching movies and shows via DVD (until they can get cable then I’m guessing it’ll be Jeopardy all the way) and having their own unique and wonderful personalities. Just like humans they want and need to be respected and shown love.
I look forward to seeing what they do in the future, I know at the moment they are short of just 60k for their outdoor modulars that they plan on using for school and college days, education and more. They seem to be constantly looking forward and always trying to improve on their already amazing facilities.
The highlight of a weekend
I love how every corner you take at the sanctuary you happen upon a different specie of primate, animal or bird. It makes it both interesting and fun day out for just yourself or the family. A highlight? Definitely. To me there is nothing better than spending time with happy animals on a nice sunny afternoon with the family.
Photos from the day
All photos are available for purchase, portion of the proceeds will go to the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary. Some photos were given to me by the Sanctuary itself and captioned as such.
All opinions are my own. Thank you to Suncoast Primate Sanctuary for inviting me to tour your sanctuary in exchange for an honest and down to earth review.