Opened in 1971, Apenheul is the first and only zoo in the world where monkeys live in a forest setting but remain free to walk around alongside the visitors who flock to see them.
The story of Apenheul started back in the late 1960s when Rotterdam-based photographer Wim Mager gave up his profession in favor of developing a more human living concept for his two pet tamarins. At the time, owning primates was still legal and purchasing the animals was common in local pet stores. But it occured to Mager that a happier, more natural environment for the animals would return in the form of a happier exprience for all who encountered them.
What resulted from this epiphany became the totally revolutionary Apenheul Primate Park still in operation today. It started simply: Apenheul would be a zoo without bars, beginning with a few smaller species including spider monkeys and woolly monkeys. Throughout the following decades, the reserve’s inhabitants have expanded to more than 70 species of monkeys (more than 30 of which are primates) including howler monkeys, orangutans, gorillas, and marmosets to name just a few.
Though Mager’s initial revelation may seem obvious to us today, without the work of Mager and his contemporaries it’s unlikely this would seem so. Strolling through this totally unique park, rubbing shoulders with our furry little cousins, provides an excellent reminder of just how far we’ve come – and how far we have yet to go – in understanding human-animal relationships in so short a time.