A squirrel monkey at London Zoo. Photo: flickr/darien gs
Published: 7 June, 2013
by RICHARD OSLEY
WITH their cherubic little faces the acrobatic yellow and black squirrel monkeys jumping through the creepers at London Zoo look like they wouldn’t hurt a fly.
But a health and safety inspection has revealed those angelic looks may be a little deceiving with a file note reporting how visitors to the zoo in Regent’s Park have sustained monkey bites while watching them search for food.
Fifteen people were bitten by the squirrel monkeys over a 12-month period to November last year, more than one bite a month, according to the report released by Westminster Council to the West End Extra following a Freedom of Information request.
The monkeys “behavioural” problems led to a ban on pushchairs at their enclosure, it adds.
Inspectors from the council, which dispenses the zoo’s licence, made their last visit to the zoo late last year.
The report confirms the well-documented loss of life in the penguin pool after an outbreak of malaria last summer and the moving of a gorilla away from the Gorilla Kingdom breeding paddock after tests found he was “infertile”.
It also discusses how the zoo would deal with a tiger escaping from the grounds, adding: “the decision as to who would be responsible for shooting the tiger outside the ZSL [Zoological Society of London] grounds has not been finalised.”
It is in the squirrel monkey “walk-through” enclosure, however, where inspectors found visitors have been left startled.
Their “revolutionary” enclosure was launched with the help of Mighty Boosh comedian Noel Fielding eight years ago and is one of the zoo’s most popular attractions. Visitors are able to walk through to get as close to the monkeys as possible.
But the council’s report, compiled on its behalf by vets from the City of London, said: “The squirrel monkeys in the walk-through enclosure are still undergoing additional negative enforcement due to some behavioural issues.
"These involve mainly grabbing of food from members of the public. There have been 15 bites over the past year, none serious, all reported to first aid.”
It added: “There is now a no pushchair policy in the enclosure as they were a major target for the monkeys looking for food.
“Negative enforcement is implemented mainly by painting a bitter apple substance on objects of desire such as mobile phones used by volunteers.”
A spokeswoman for ZSL said: “Squirrel monkeys are naturally very curious and our family of cheeky Bolivian squirrel monkeys is no exception – which has occasionally led to a small nip on a visitor’s hand.
“To help avoid this, we have volunteers based in the walk-through exhibit who can remind people not to get too close to our monkeys and resist the temptation to give them a stroke.
“We’ve also used bitter apple on mobile phones as a deterrent, as our monkeys seem particularly taken with the latest technology.”