Jim and Alison Cronin at Monkey World, Dorset, England.

Jim and Alison Cronin at Monkey World, Dorset, England.

Each year, on my younger brother Jim’s birthday, I reflect on lessons from his brief stay on the planet. Two always come to mind:

He was terrified of growing old; he died unexpectedly at 55.

From a young age, he was enthralled with monkeys; despite being a college dropout he gained worldwide recognition for the rescue and care of abused primates.

On Sundays, when we were little, an organ grinder and his capuchin monkey played in the alley beneath our apartment in Yonkers, NY. My mother wrapped a quarter in a napkin and let my brother drop it the three stories to the pair below. Jim was imprinted. His fascination with the animal never ceased. Relatives took to calling him “monkey.”

Four decades later, from a deserted pig farm in Dorset, England, Jim created Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre, now the second most popular zoo in the UK. But this happy playground for formerly tortured, drug and tobacco-addicted, experimented-upon monkeys and apes belies the drama behind it. His New York Times obituary captured a small slice of the courageous, often frightening, worldwide crusade he conducted with his wife Allison:

Starting in 1996, the Cronins made dozens of trips to Africa, Southeast Asia and Turkey — posing as potential buyers, secretively taking photographs, recording addresses and then leading the local police in raids against animal smugglers. In 1998, for instance, they coordinated simultaneous raids on a pet shop and a street booth at a spice market in Istanbul where baby chimpanzees were being sold.

“We were each given police escorts with machine guns,” Mrs. Cronin said in an telephone interview yesterday. “Still, the people were drawing their fingers across their throats.”

In 2006, Queen Elizabeth II inducted Jim and Alison as Members of the Order of the British Empire

The video below, from the Animal Planet series Monkey Life, is a glimpse into the joyful home Jim and Alison created at Monkey World for the hundreds of abused and tormented primates they rescued. Unrelenting brutality at the hands of humans left these chimpanzees, orangutans, marmosets, gibbons, monkeys, lemurs, and macaques unfit for re-introduction into the wild.

But Jim’s brief life gave these beautiful misfits a longer life when there seemed chance of none. Alison, who holds a doctorate in biological anthropology from Cambridge, continues the campaign.

To learn more about Monkey World Ape Rescue Center, Jim and Alison, and their primate wards, follow this link.