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Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Gainesville woman's monkey business

<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-8d59c52b-5d3d-6bf7-765f-ed09e7706954"><span>Samantha and Charlotte, a pair of white-faced capuchin monkey sisters, sit above their owner, 61-year-old Kari Bagnall, in the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary on Tuesday afternoon.</span></span></p>

Samantha and Charlotte, a pair of white-faced capuchin monkey sisters, sit above their owner, 61-year-old Kari Bagnall, in the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary on Tuesday afternoon.

Although the surrounding monkey walkways hang no more than 5 feet above the ground, Kari Bagnall doesn’t have to duck. Mud splatters from her rain boots as she weaves her way through a maze of cages, trees and hanging metal walkways.

Her stride is effortless. She knows this caged maze better than anyone else. When Bagnall finds the cage she’s looking for, she reaches through the metal bearings and playfully tugs on a white-faced monkey’s black foot.

Bagnall, 61, says she’s not good at baby talk, but you should see her with the monkeys.

“I got your foot ... Hi, Sam. Hiiii, Sammy,” she coos one day in late January. “Hmmm, that’s my good girl. I’ll tickle you! How’s that crazy monkey, huh? How’s that crazy girl? I love you. You’re my favorite.”

Hey, Buddy

Kari Bagnall, the owner of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, lets Samantha, the 22-year-old white-faced capuchin monkey, grasp her finger. Bagnall has owned Samantha since the monkey was four months old.

Samantha and her sister Charlotte live in a spacious habitat at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainesville, where Bagnall is the founder and executive director. The sisters have 205 neighbors. Most are abandoned pets or retired research monkeys dumped in Bagnall’s 44-acre backyard, where she and staff nurse them back to health.

In Bagnall’s makeshift jungle, she gives the primates a home.

Samantha was Bagnall’s first monkey.

A man, referred to as “the ex-boyfriend,” surprised Bagnall with a 4-month-old white-faced capuchin 22 years ago. But for the ex-boyfriend, the novelty wore off quickly.

Sam is a biter.

“He decided that he did not want the monkey anymore. I decided I would keep the monkey and get rid of the boyfriend,” she said with a chuckle.

“We always had dogs and cats when I was a kid,” she went on. “You know, if a baby bird would fall out of the tree, I’d bring the bird home, and we’d have to nurse the bird back to health. But never in a million years would I have thought that I would have 207 monkeys.”

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It takes $60,000 a month to run the sanctuary, she said, adding that she spends most of her time fundraising for the nonprofit.

Bagnall lives in a modest mobile home in the middle of the sanctuary. There are nicer houses on the property — but why move, she said, when she can look out her windows and see the monkeys?

Inside, blankets are strewn about, probably for the dogs.

When asked how many she has, she replied, “Oh, I don’t know.” 

There’s Penny and Baby Duck, the bad dogs; Potter, who came with the property; and Jackie, who runs “to keep her girlish figure.”

Bagnall sits at the wooden kitchen table with Gabby on her shoulder. The cockatoo’s white feathers blend in with Bagnall’s shoulder-length, wispy white hair.

Everyone, including the bird, fights for her attention.


From Secretarial School to Monkey Business

At 19, Bagnall followed her father to Las Vegas to go to secretarial school.

“After I found out I did not like secretarial school — I didn’t like being a secretary or working in an office — I ended up becoming a cocktail waitress and then went to some college classes,” she said. “I was going to be a nurse. And then I decided I didn’t want to be a nurse, so I went to went to real estate school, and got my real estate license.”

Overworked and stressed to the core, Bagnall quit real estate, got a license as an interior designer and started her own business.

Then Samantha came along.

High Five

Samantha, a 22-year-old white-faced capuchin monkey, reaches down from a monkey walkway in the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary on Tuesday. Samantha was sanctuary owner Kari Bagnall’s first monkey.

“She thought I was her mother. I mean she practically lived on my back,” Bagnall said.

The minute Bagnall discovered how baby monkeys were stolen from their mothers’ arms, she decided she would dedicate her life to helping the creatures and educating the public against having them as pets.

After Samantha came her sister, Charlotte. Eleven other monkeys followed.

In 1999, Bagnall moved from Las Vegas to Gainesville with 13 monkeys, the first residents at Jungle Friends.

“I’ve always said to her, I couldn’t have done what she’s done,” said Sara Smith, a director at the sanctuary. 

Smith, who’s worked alongside Bagnall since 2001, said Bagnall is the hardest worker she knows.

“She’s very much in charge. She knows what she wants, and she gets it,” Smith said. “She’s just a sparkly person.”

Bagnall’s energy on four to six hours of sleep is higher than someone running on a full eight. In a matter of 15 minutes, her house phone rings, she answers. A jingle escapes from her iPhone, she responds. Voices stream out of her walkie-talkie, she talks back.

She’s definitely in charge, but her reign is gentle. She keeps calm amid the chaos.

“You hang around a bunch of monkeys, and you’re going to be changed,” Bagnall said. “You learn to calm down. Because even if somebody runs, then the monkeys go off, and they think there is danger.”

Bagnall rarely leaves the sanctuary. When she does, it’s to speak out against the pet trade in conferences across the U.S.

“As far as taking a day off?” she says. “Why would I? To do what?”


A baby brown-faced capuchin monkey hangs on the side of a habitat in the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary on Tuesday. Two hundred and seven monkeys live in the 44-acre sanctuary.

[A version of this story ran on page 9 on 2/6/2015 under the headline “A Gainesville woman's monkey business"]

Samantha and Charlotte, a pair of white-faced capuchin monkey sisters, sit above their owner, 61-year-old Kari Bagnall, in the Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary on Tuesday afternoon.

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