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Barbados Wildlife Reserve is not a typical monkey zoo. The frolicking, scampering, chattering green monkeys are not in cages and neither are you as you stroll through their forested domain.

Barbados green monkey baby
Barbados green monkey baby
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Look around and you see dozens of C. aethiops monkey species swinging from branches. A Barbados green monkey nibbles on leaves and hibiscus blossoms. Another monkey suckles her infant. Two green monkeys are grooming each other.

Driving directions

Located across from Farley Hill National Park, in the parish of St. Peter, the wildlife reserve is about 20 minutes from Bridgetown.

Besides driving the scenic East Coast Road (Hwy. 1) from Bridgetown, you can take the bus from Bridgetown, Bathsheba, Speightstown and Holetown. Some sightseeing tours also include the Barbados Wildlife Reserve in their itineraries.

The closest city is Speightstown. It has restaurants and shops. St. Peter hotels are the closest to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, but Barbados is small, so you could stay in any hotel on the island and still be able to spend the day at the reserve.

Why are they called green monkeys?

Green monkeys are the only species of monkey in Barbados. They are called "green" because their coats are brown and gray, with olive green highlights, which have a green sheen in the sunlight.

Barbados green monkeys can grow to 0.6 meters (two feet) tall. They live in troops of about 15 and have a life span of about 30 years.

C. aethiops monkeys originally came from Senegal and Gambia, West Africa. Historians believe that they were brought to Barbados, on slave ships, as gifts for the early settlers about 350 years ago. Whether the monkeys were kept as pets or used for food is not known.

Feeding time

The 1.6 hectare (four-acre) wildlife reserve is sculpted out of lush mahogany forest. Planted banana and mango trees provide food for the monkeys.

Barbados green monkeys are free to come and go as they please. Monkeys that leave in the morning usually return by the afternoon feeding time.

The best time to visit Barbados Wildlife Reserve is from 2 to 3 p.m. Dozens of green monkeys migrate through the trees to the feeding area, where employees distribute fresh fruits and grains.

Both adults and kids are thrilled to watch the monkeys eating. Some monkeys eat while standing on the backs of giant tortoises.

Walking along pathway with tortoise
Walking along pathway with tortoise
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Local birds and animals

Tortoises, other animals and birds also live in the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. A walk-in aviary houses brightly plumed macaws and parrots, as well as cooing brown doves and chirping bannaquits (the birds made famous by the calypso song Yellow Bird). You may also see pink flamingos, screeching peacocks, brown pelicans and tiny sparrows.

A caiman and snakes are kept in cages, but other animals wander freely around the reserve. You may see brocket deer, agoutis (which resemble guinea pigs with high heels) and playful otters. You're less likely to see armadillos, which hide in burrows during the day.

Wildlife observation

The best way to see Barbados green monkeys and other animals up close and interacting with each other is by strolling along the shady paths or sitting quietly on strategically placed benches. Inevitably, critters will scamper through the natural habitat.

You also have to look carefully where you're walking. So preoccupied were we with photographing the green monkeys that several times we nearly stepped on tortoises that, like us, were following the red brick walkways.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, these red bricks were used to construct boiler furnaces in Barbados sugar factories. If you look closely, you can still see the stamps of the manufacturing companies. None of the bricks were made locally. All were brought to Barbados by ships, which used them as ballast.

Barbados Primate Research Centre

Canadian primatologist Jean Baulu, and his wife Suzanne, moved to Barbados from Montreal and founded the Barbados Primate Research Centre in 1982. Baulu later opened the wildlife reserve, in 1985, using seed money from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

A brochure explains the activities of the Primate Research Centre. When Jean Baulu established the centre, Barbados farmers viewed green monkeys as agricultural pests, fit only for extermination.

Monkey rescue

A bounty was temporarily imposed on green monkeys from as early as 1684. In 1975, the population of C. aethiops monkeys skyrocketed to over 8,000, causing millions of dollars damage to fruit and vegetable crops. On some farms, crop destruction amounted to 40 per cent of the harvest.

The Barbados government reinstated a bounty of $5B for every tail brought into the Ministry of Agriculture. To rescue the monkeys, the primate center offered to pay a bounty of $25B for each monkey captured alive and unharmed in cage-traps provided by the centre.

The Barbados Primate Research Centre also shelters green monkeys that were kept as pets, when they were small, but abandoned after they grew larger.

Healthy population

Some of the Barbados green monkeys, saved from the shotgun in the Crop Damage Control Program, are donated to zoos.

Data from the Barbados Primate Research Centre and C. aethiops blood bank are used for genetic, immunologic, epidemiological and virology research and teaching. Some of the rescued green monkeys are sold for medical research. The income helps support the reserve and research center.

The isolation of Barbadian monkeys from their African cousins has resulted in a disease-free population. (Barbados green monkeys do not carry the AIDS virus, which afflicts many of their species in Africa, for example.)

Adult green monkey
Adult green monkey
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Polio vaccines

The former agricultural pests have saved human lives. Their kidney tissue culture was used to manufacture polio vaccines that have successfully controlled and prevented this once-frightening and crippling disease.

Demand for research monkeys has dropped now that polio is mostly eradicated. Baulu is looking for humane ways to use rescued monkeys, such as in behavioral studies. According to primate experts, Barbados green monkeys, released into the reserve, could be attacked by the resident primates. Outside the reserve, farmers still shoot monkeys that steal their crops.

Jean Baulu is well aware of the controversies around animal use in medical research. He is very open about his activities and regularly invites academic groups to visit the laboratory to learn more about his research.

The public can also make appointments to view the Barbados Primate Research Centre's breeding area, nursery and laboratory. All the buildings are constructed from coral stone, gathered from surrounding cane fields.

Barbados tourist attractions

Thousands of tourists visit the reserve each year, paying an entrance fee that subsidizes the upkeep of the captive monkeys. A café and shop at the reception area sell snacks, drinks and gifts.

Admission fees include entrance to the adjacent Grenade Hall Forest and Signal Station, which offers great views. After touring the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, you can visit other nearby Barbados attractions, such as Farley Hill National Park, Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill, St. Nicholas Abbey and Cherry Tree Hill Lookout.


Barbados Tourism Authority: www.visitbarbados.org

More things to see and do in Barbados:

Barbados Atlantis Submarine Tour

Romantic Barbados

Barbados Crop Over Festival