More fun than a barrel of monkeys

The live primates running around Ben-Shemen, mixed with non-ape attractions, will please the kids.

monkey kid 248 (photo credit: courtesy)
monkey kid 248
(photo credit: courtesy)
If spring is here, can summer be far off? Or more to the point, if we've had the Pessah break, can the summer vacation be far away? With this in mind, when offered a press trip to the Monkey Park at Ben-Shemen during the recent school break, I took the opportunity - along with my seven-year-old man-cub Yossi and a friend - and got a closer look at what is fast becoming one of the country's particularly popular sites for kids. The weather played its part by providing an unusually hot day, a fact which affected how both the human visitors and the residential primates behaved (the latter quite frequently behaving better - or at least more quietly). I hadn't been to the site since its very early days in 1995 when I worked on a feature on rescued animals and concentrated mainly on the monkey sanctuary, which still operates alongside the tourist attraction. It serves as a home for those poor primates which were illegally smuggled into the country or kept illegally (and unsuitably) as pets or taken from animal laboratories. The park has certainly developed physically, with many paths, trees and enclosures - some of which provide, as promised, a close-up look at the monkeys of many sorts. Our animal magnetism wasn't working, however, and we didn't find any monkeys that wanted to get too friendly with us, despite the warnings that they might climb on us and be petted and even try to steal our bags. The peacocks, on the other hand, obligingly showed off as if posing for pictures. The keepers were personable and willing to answer questions, but we missed a guided tour as such. Yossi, equipped with a "passport," started out enthusiastically following the suggested route, answering questions on the different species and rubber-stamping pages along the way. The black-and-white Angolan Colobus, with its stump of a thumb, was a hit with our small group. But for Yossi and most of the kids we saw, the monkeys were only part of the fun. There were other human diversions such as the special climbing wall to be scaled, "Tarzan's tree house," rope bridges to be crossed and the "Afrikef Tam-Tam" giant jungle gym. Unfortunately, we hadn't prepared for the water attractions (a water slide, foam cannon, etc.) which might have cooled us down - although it did give us more time to spend with the animals (arranged by region) and for our picnic. There are refreshment stands and a cafeteria on-site. The Monkey Park is probably one of those places which improves with subsequent visits when you know your way around, know what to skip (the petting corner was superfluous for us) and where to head for (the Tam-Tam gymboree and one of the performances, like African drums, with audience participation). Yossi would like to visit again and said the best part was "seeing the monkeys in nature." At NIS 48 for both adults and children, it is not cheap, although other visitors I spoke with thought the price was reasonable, considering it offered a variety of activities for different ages and you could easily spend the best part of a day there. The sanctuary and park are registered non-profit charities dedicated to saving monkeys and educating the public and, indeed, we did leave knowing more about the different types of primates than when we had entered several hours earlier. n Summer hours: Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (entry until 4 p.m.). See or call (08) 928-5888. Directions: From Highway No. 1, get off at the Rosh Ha'ayin-Ben Shemen interchange and head for Kfar Daniel; From Highway No. 6 and from Highway 443, get off in the direction of Modi'in/Shoham and head for Kfar Daniel/Gimzu.