THE PRIMATES are definitely in the swing of things – on ropes, bridges, tree branches – in fact, on anything to make their progress more fun and eventful.

DSC_5573Some are dozing in the dappled shade, others foraging for leftovers from their earlier meal break. They all appear happy and contented, as well they might in this wonderful sanctuary, established exclusively for their needs.

DSC_5608I admit to some favourites as I wander the well laid-out paths of La Vallée des Singes in Romagne. From the impressively coloured Lion Monkey to the tiny Pygmy Marmoset and the magnificent Silverback Gorilla, lording over his troupe of sycophants like some Egyptian pharaoh, expecting to be waited upon, hand and foot, and daring anyone to venture into his personal space.

DSC_5618This is an extraordinary place. As a writer with a passion for wildlife conservation, I cannot think of another sanctuary in Europe where one can wander so freely amongst primates.

DSC_5606Apes, monkeys and lemurs live in natural habitats with walk-through enclosures. Divided by small streams, I see no fences within the grounds, and during my time here, so often I turn a corner to be confronted by one primate after the other within touching distance, the squeals more for play-acting than any outward threat to curious humans.

DSC_5616Apart from the strict feeding regimes, which are posted for visitors to attend, and which attract large groups, the primates are left to get on with their daily lives, playing, feeding and breeding.

DSC_5557It is easy to see why the Valley of the Monkeys is one of the most popular attractions in France’s Poitou-Charentes, with thirty-two primate species – including the largest gorilla colony in France and the largest concentration of chimpanzees in Europe – living within seventeen hectares of a natural wooded park.

DSC_5605Many of the 400 primates either travel freely through the trees, or are otherwise enclosed on large islands, allowing them to move and interact as they please.

DSC_5603The list is mightily impressive, including Squirrel monkeys, Titi monkeys, Tamarins, Capuchins, the endangered Bonobos, Marmosets, Gelada Baboons, Barbary Macaques, Lemurs, Colobus monkeys, and the rare White-bellied Spider Monkeys.

DSC_5614I would recommend you spend a day here to get the full benefit of the park and the feeding times. You do not have to worry about where to lunch yourself, as there are two picnic and restaurant areas with impressive menus, both of which incorporate a children’s play area.


About 40 minutes by car from Poitiers, the park opened in 1998, and has seen visitor numbers increase year on year. Around 180,000 passed through the gates in 2012, rising to 200,000 last year, many being either daily school parties or families out to both entertain and educate the children.

DSC_5582I am shown around by attaché commercial Guillaume Philippe, who explains that, this being such a natural environment in which to live, the park can boast excellent animal reproduction cycles. In fact, over five hundred births have taken place over the past seventeen years, some species realising their first European births.

DSC_5581An an example, Titi monkeys are indigenous to South America, yet last year reproduced here, an exceptional occasion by any standards. The same can be said for the Bonobo, our closest living relative, sharing more than 98% of its DNA with humans. The primate reproduces every seven years, due to the fact that they are still giving milk to their offspring after five or six years.

DSC_5623The park has gained such an impressive reputation that many people working in zoos across Europe visit in order to observe the staff, all of whom have built up excellent skills.

DSC_5621I leave the park happy and contented, vowing to return the next time with video equipment to hand.

  • All images © Essential Journeys/Michael Cowton

Le Gureau, 86700 Romagne, Vienne, France.

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