Joey's Story

Last week, master fraudster Juliette d’Sousa, 59, was given a 10-year jail sentence for conning people out of vast sums on the pretext of being able to heal their terminal illnesses.

But perhaps her saddest victim was a creature she deprived of a decent life and left so traumatised and disabled that he will never recover.  Even sadder, he is somebody who cannot speak up for himself or sue for compensation.

He is Joey, a capuchin monkey that d’Sousa imported from Suriname in South America and kept in a cage for 10 years in her flat in Hampstead, North London.  She did it all quite legally, filling in the requisite paperwork, quarantining him for six months and obtaining a DWA (Dangerous Wild Animal) licence from the local council.

Although reasonably healthy when he arrived as a baby, Joey started to suffer from brittle bone disease and became progressively deformed.  He also developed severe mental problems, endlessly rocking backwards and forwards in his distress.

Eventually, though, Joey was one of d’Sousa’s luckier victims.

In 2007, she left the country and put osteopath Keith Bender, who had been referring his own patients to d’Sousa, in charge of Joey.  After five months, when Bender went round as usual to feed the monkey, he found bailiffs in the flat, clearing it out for non-payment of rent.  They could not believe there was a monkey there.

Bender called The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall, who contacted the RSPCA, and then there was the problem of how to obtain Joey legally.  As it seemed he had been abandoned, the RSPCA was able to sign Joey over to the Sanctuary.  This was just as well as d’Sousa – who operated under at least five different aliases – remained out of the country for the next six years, returning to the UK only to stand trial for fraud.

‘He was easily the most traumatised monkey we had ever seen,’ says Rachel Hevesi, director of The Monkey Sanctuary. ‘His catalogue of conditions included poor bone density, curved long bones, a fused spine, hip dysplasia, malformed jaw and un-erupted and misaligned teeth.  He was also scared and timid.  We never thought for a minute that he would make it but he has a terrific fighting spirit and although still severely disabled, he has recovered some of his monkey instincts.

‘He now socializes with our other primates and is even helping us to rehabilitate other distressed monkeys at the Sanctuary.’

Many people do not realise that it is quite legal to keep monkeys as pets in the UK and that the monkey pet trade is actually growing, at a time when it has been outlawed in 13 other EU countries.  The Monkey Sanctuary, also known as Wild Futures, and now celebrating its 50th anniversary, has been campaigning for years for the trade to be outlawed, yet still it continues.

If I want to buy a monkey as a pet, assuming I have between £5000 and £8000 to spare, all I have to do is look for one on the internet, hand over the money, bring it home and obtain a DWA licence for about £40.  Certain types of monkeys, such as marmosets, do not even need a licence, as they are not considered dangerous wild animals. 

So now I have a cute, human-like trophy pet which will amuse and entertain me.  Except that it won’t.  Around 5000 monkeys are being kept as pets in the UK, yet never has anybody succeeded in domesticating a primate.  Nor is there any evidence that primates can flourish in a human environment.

“Yes, they are very cute as babies, with their big eyes and furry faces,’ says Hevesi. ‘But after a time they will develop into the wild animals they essentially are, and turn vicious and aggressive.  You cannot house train a primate and it will wee all over the place, establishing territory.

‘It will bite and attack you, as this is what primates do to each other in the wild.  Then it will get punished and be banished to a small cage where it can’t do harm.

‘One owner was so badly bitten by his pet monkey that his hand is permanently disabled.  Monkeys need sunlight and will develop diseases if they don’t get it, but pet monkeys never do get sunlight.  They are kept indoors.

‘Then they will almost certainly be given the wrong sort of diet.  Like children, monkeys love sweets and chocolate but they must never be given them as they will develop high blood sugar levels. One owner proudly told us his pet monkey joined them for a roast dinner on Sundays, yet monkeys don’t thrive on roast dinners.  There is so much ignorance over what constitutes a suitable diet for them. ‘

Monkeys can seem attractive pets because they are clever, working out ways to open doors, picking up things with their hands and behaving almost like humans.  But also like humans, they will self-harm if frustrated and bite their own tails, often until they expose the bones.  They exhibit a similar variety of behaviours to humans in that some are aggressive, some are friendly, some are nervous and timid, and shrink away.

‘They will bond with humans up to a point, but never enough to overcome their innate primate instincts,’ says Hevesi.

It is unusual these days for a monkey like Joey to be brought to the UK from his natural habitat.  ‘Most pet primates are born in the UK specifically for the trade, and when they become aggressive, as they usually do, they are sold on from owner to owner.  Josh, one of our other successes, used a stick to let himself out of the door to escape from his owner, and he had to be taken to a holding place until we could obtain him. Josh was so angry, but he was given a chance to socialize when he came here, and he has completely changed.’

Yet it is not easy for the Monkey Sanctuary, or any other animal charity, to rescue these pathetic creatures. ‘We can only obtain them legally if there is obvious cruelty or if their owners contact us saying they can no longer cope.  We specialize in pick ups and we take the rescued monkeys straight to the vet where they get a full exam including x-ray, ultrasound and blood tests.

‘Then we introduce them to the Sanctuary where they are given a proper diet and trees to climb, and although they can never be returned to the wild, they can have a good life and live to a ripe old age of about 45.’

Poor old Joey, ugly and disabled though he is, has become quite a celebrity.  He has been adopted by Stephen Fry, who says: ‘We are meant to be a nation of animal lovers, so why the trade in a wild, social animal with complex needs is still legal, continues to astound me. Joey’s story is not unique. Many of the monkeys rescued by Wild Futures have their own terrible tales.’

Joey is so popular he has also been adopted by Jane Fallon, Ricky Gervais’s partner, and Angela Humphery, a former neighbour of d’Sousa.  Angela, who has campaigned on behalf of illtreated animals for around 70 years, says: ‘The primate pet trade is horrific and nobody knows about it.  Monkeys are appealing and intelligent, but are the very last animals that should be confined.  D’Sousa has been given 10 years, but Joey has a life sentence.’

The Monkey Sanctuary was founded by musician Leonard Williams, father of classical guitarist John Williams,, in 1964 after he was left a monkey in a Will, and realised he could not look after it.  He sold up, bought some land in Looe, Cornwall, and established the Sanctuary to enable rescued monkeys to live a normal life.

At first it was thought they could be returned to the wild but that proved impossible and the Sanctuary now has 37 rescued primates, with many turned away every week for lack of space.

Although Rachel Hevesi, who joined the Sanctuary as a 20-year old volunteer 30 years ago, loves her work, her greatest aim is to put herself out of a job. ‘As a charity, we would like to make ourselves redundant by ending the primate pet trade.  We will continue to campaign until it is permanently outlawed in the UK.’

The Times - June 2014