CONSERVATIONISTS have attacked the decision to bring a captive monkey and two penguins to a Poole nursing home for the day.
Dr Alison Cronin, of the ape rescue centre Monkey World, spoke to the Daily Echo after a 12-year-old squirrel monkey and two Humboldt penguins took centre stage at Kingland House Residential Home on Wednesday.
Around 50 people, including residents, their families and staff packed a room to meet and handle the animals.
The visit, carried out by Oxfordshire’s Amazing Animals – a company that specialised in training animals to work in film and TV – saw Dougie the squirrel monkey and two miniature penguins, Charlie and Ferrari, enthral the crowd.
Mayor of Poole Chris Bulteel was among the guests, but the visit was quickly attacked by Dr Cronin and serious reservations were also voiced by the RSPCA and staff at Bournemouth Ocenarium.
Dr Cronin said Dougie – who has starred alongside Hollywood heartthrob Johnny Depp in promotional shots for the Pirates of the Caribbean films – could carry and be susceptible to disease.
“The most important thing for Dougie is companionship with his own kind, as squirrel monkeys are social animals that live in large groups in the wild,” she said.
“In our experience most squirrel monkeys we’ve rescued have been kept in isolated conditions. Even if this company says Dougie is kept in a group of his own kind, taking him away from this group for visits and film work would be equally stressful for him and the other squirrel monkeys.
“Quite frankly, I cannot see any way how it is acceptable for Dougie to live like this – he is a wild animal and needs to be with his own kind.”
Squirrel monkeys are also prone to carrying bacteria, including salmonella and E-coli.
“Dougie may be at risk from human viruses, especially in a nursing home. We don’t let members of staff come to work, even when they have the first feeling they’re getting a cold,” she said.
The animals were handled by residents on the visit, although alcohol gel was available to disinfect their hands.
Bournemouth Oceanarium aquarist Chris Hill said the conditions would not have been ideal for the two penguins.
He explained: “Remember, these are not land animals. Having them travel around by road without a water tank is hard to justify. I’m sure the owners do their best for them, but this could prove stressful for the penguins.”
Sarah Moseley, from Weymouth Sea Life Park, said: “Even wild animals bred in captivity are still going to be wary towards humans. It is their nature. Therefore, putting them in an environment like that could put unnecessary stress on the penguins.”
Jim Clubb, of Amazing Animals, said: “Our animals are multi-generation captive bred and kept in modern zoo-like conditions.
“They are all trained and used to human interaction as they are used for the audiovisual industries on a regular basis. This means that the animals are not stressed in any way and are used to travelling.
“To say that primates such as Dougie have to be kept in isolated conditions in order to attend visits like this is simply not true.
“In fact, we are in the process of obtaining squirrel monkeys to enlarge our group.”
Poole mayor Chris Bulteel appreciated Dr Cronin’s expertise, but said the three animals on show seemed to be well treated.
He added: “A lot of the people there were elderly and probably some were quite lonely, so it was great to see big smiles on their faces. I really think that animals can have a therapeutic effect.”
Care home manager Janet Matthews agreed the booking after Amazing Animals featured on a television programme with Alan Titchmarsh.
She said: “Everybody clearly enjoyed the occasion and if it’s good enough for Alan Titchmarsh, it’s good enough for us.”
The RSPCA said: “We would be concerned if such visits increase stress levels or cause unnecessary disturbance to animals. The animals’ welfare must be paramount.”