Mally is unimpressed by a visit from a reporter. Not because he became blasé during the roughly five lost weeks he spent with Justin Bieber, but because he doesn’t really care much about people any more. That is a good thing.
We tracked down the nearly one-year-old Capuchin monkey, who now lives at the Serengeti Safari Park in Hodenhagen, a few hours north of Berlin, Germany. It’s safe to say he has forgotten Bieber, and that little if any memory remains of the time he spent as the pop star’s close companion. Back then he was a pitiable creature, seen clutching onto the singer’s hair and being styled up for Bieber’s Instagram photos, named OG Mally. The 9-week-old monkey was an apparent birthday gift from Jamal “Mally Mall” Rashid, a producer who has worked with Tyga and Wiz Khalifa.
But last March 28 proved to be Mally’s lucky day. It was then that Bieber touched down in his private jet with his pet monkey at Munich airport, preparing to play 25 dates during the next 37 days, criss-crossing Germany, most of Europe, Russia, Turkey and Dubai. And it seems he intended to take Mally with him to face a series of inevitable screaming packs of fans and a succession of hotel rooms.
German customs officers wanted paperwork to prove that Mally was legally in Bieber’s possession and was cleared for entry to the country. When this failed to emerge, the German government confiscated Mally. Initially he was held in quarantine by customs authorities in Munich, while Bieber was given until May 7 -- more than a month -- to provide the papers. But Bieber wrote off Mally at this point, and the monkey officially became the property of the German state. (Scooter Braun, Bieber's manager, looked into possibilities for the primate but gave up.) The Germans have sinced billed Bieber for Mally’s care and hit him with a fine. The costs have hit $11,000. But Bieber hasn’t paid.
One element many people -- including Bieber -- probably don’t realize: Bieber apparently was breaking the law before he ever took Mally out of the United States. “Owning a monkey is illegal in California and permits are never issued to keep one as a pet,” says Chris Green, legislative director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “If he possessed Mally in California prior to arriving in Germany, he would have been breaking the law there as well.” It’s pretty clear that he spent time during his five week ownership of Mally in California, staying at his Calabasas mansion -- flaunting his new pet on Instagram -- and flying out of Los Angeles to Germany. Why didn’t anyone ever enforce the law on Bieber? A frustrated Green says, “enforcement is very difficult and must be strengthened.”
So Mally, still just a baby monkey that should’ve been riding his mother’s back for another year or so, wound up alone again. Eventually, after a month quarantine with just a stuffed teddy bear for company, officials placed him with Germany’s only captive capuchin family at Serengeti, a themed safari park where visitors can “tour” the grounds on a 6-mile expedition. And his rescue and rehabilitation began.
We first spot him exit a little house on a little island into the sunshine. He responds to calls from his keeper, but does not stay out for long. He takes a look around, issuing the typical high-pitched squeaks of a Capuchin, and soon returns indoors to his newfound family. The wind is chilly, and there is fooling around on ropes to be done with the other monkeys inside. The group includes another youngster, just a couple of weeks younger than Mally -- and she still spends much of her time on her mother’s back.
Generally this is the case for at least the first year of a baby Capuchin’s life. Her experience is in stark contrast to Mally’s, who at just nine weeks became part of the Bieber entourage -- clinging to his famous pompadour. Mally’s next mother figure became Jennifer Niewöhner, who is in charge of the monkeys at the safari park, and would work with him to teach him how to eat, climb and to a certain degree behave like a monkey.
And -- luckily -- the two seemed to develop a natural rapport. Monkeys, Niewöhner says, “pretty much choose their keeper.” There are a few keepers that she can tell Mally doesn’t particularly care for -- “They have never done anything to him, he just doesn’t like them” -- but she suffered none of that. “Within about half an hour, it was clear it would be OK between us.”
She says that every day, from about 6:45 a.m. on, she would spend time with him every couple of hours, with an extended session after work before she went home. Her first task was to teach him how to eat like a real monkey. “Monkey mothers chew up the food and feed it to their babies so I had to simulate that,” she says. She would cut the food -- first grapes, blueberries, apples and carrots, eventually moving onto cooked eggs and chicken -- into small pieces and pretend to chew it before handing it to Mally. “He had to think I was eating it. The little ones will not later eat anything that they haven’t had first from their mothers.”
Mally was a quick developer -- he would very clearly tell her when she gave him a piece that was too big. “He would hand it back, pushing it towards my mouth,” she said. Niewöhner spent a very intense five months caring for Mally. She used her experience (she’d once before led the close care of a spider monkey) and observations from her time watching the other Capuchin mothers care for their babies, and focused on breaking him of potentially bad behaviors. “I had to make sure that I was not rewarding behavior that people might find amusing but that other monkeys might find aggressive,” she said.
And she also needed to teach him how to. . . well, essentially, how to be a monkey. Like how to use his tail: “I would help him wind it round a branch and then hold his weight so he would feel safe but realize what his tail could do. And then I would hold him progressively less so he could learn how to use it.” At first Mally would not walk on grass -- he had apparently never seen it before. “It’s not as tragic as one might think,” Niewöhner says. “Every small monkey has to encounter it for the first time. I had to show him everything -- had to teach him not to eat bees or wasps for example, but that beetles and worms were good. I would give him the beetles that I found there between my lips so he would take them.”
After his second quarantine period was over, he was moved into the little house on the island where he would be gradually integrated with the small troop of Capuchins at the park. Mally was allowed into the new space first, so that he would be part of the new surroundings when the family moved in -- and not an intruder into their established territory.
The other monkeys were introduced to the house after about five weeks -- initially separated from Mally by a chain-link barrier, so they could see and hear each other. Then they brought in the females first, including Molly, the baby just a few weeks younger than Mally. Niewöhner helped ease the transition, taking him close to the fence to encourage him to interact the monkeys. “Soon enough one of the adult females started to act aggressively towards me -- it was a very good sign as it meant she was trying to protect him,” she says. “She knew that he was a monkey, even if it wasn’t yet clear to him.”
Eventually, when they let Mally interact directly with the other monkeys, he was tentative, and while “they didn’t do anything aggressive to him, he would hold his teddy bear in front of him to protect himself when they approached him.”
The zookeepers’ biggest concern was that Mally might not be able to assert himself strongly enough, because of his age, to get enough to eat. “But that was no problem, and he certainly makes himself heard when he is not happy about something,” says Niewöhner.
Next, they had to remove the trappings of his humanized life. They took away his stuffed teddy. And Niewöhner had to discourage him from seeing her as a mother figure.
“At first it was hard for me,” she says. “I had to stop him from climbing onto my head. I had to go away and ignore him -- that was the only punishment we used -- withdrawing attention. That was sometimes really difficult because he would cry when I went away.”
“But it is kind of like when you take your child to kindergarten for the first time and have to leave them there. It is the best for him.“
It’s also good for Niewöhner; as a mature monkey, Mally will have a serious set of teeth, with large canines, and he will be strong. (Capuchins grow to about 10 pounds and are able to jump up to nine feet.) He will also be ruled by strong hormones, and had contact with her continued, he likely would have either seen her as a potential fighting partner or a mate. Neither of which she wanted to experience.
Fully integrated into the group now, “he still knows me, but I don’t encourage him to come to me for cuddles or strokes any more,” she says. Mally now could live until he is 50 or 55, by which time Bieber will be in his 70s. Who knows if he will even remember or question or care about that time he used a baby monkey as an Instagram prop.