Anxious, pale faces peered out through the hardware cloth of the wooden transport crates trying to figure out where they were and if there was anything to be afraid of. They moved from side to side attempting to get a better look at their new surroundings and the light sometimes caught a flash of color from the metal and nylon "collars" clamped securely around their small necks.
These monkeys had been bred for research and were singly housed in laboratory cages prior to their rescue. No grass or dirt beneath their feet, no warming sun overhead, no breeze in their face and no one to touch, groom or play with. That was soon to change.
The first order of business was removing those hideous collars which had loops on each end that allowed lab personnel to hook them with a pole and drag them out of their cage. One by one the collars were unscrewed and removed -- the last reminder of their previous confinement and manipulation now gone forever. Then it was on to socializing and pairing them and then, finally, grouping them all together.
Over the last four years these remarkable wild animals have progressed from singly-housed lonely beings facing a bleak and painful future to robust, inquisitive, active and social monkeys who spend their days foraging in their enclosure and their nights in the company of stars. We have watched them struggle to find their place and rank in their own group and seen them huddle together for warmth in the cold of a winter night. We witnessed Sammy brave angry paper wasps as he devoured the larvae in their nests and marveled at the monkeys' love of swimming in the pools. They enjoy picking through the grass, laying in the shade being groomed, an occasional argument and no day is complete without at least one game of chase.
I can hardly recognize them as the same monkeys who arrived here almost four years ago, scared and collared, and their presence is a constant reminder to me that freedom is, indeed, a very precious thing worth cherishing, protecting and securing for others.