He told the story to whoever would listen, he said, and eventually found a sympathetic ear with connections to Humane Society International in Washington.
The nonprofit group has since bankrolled the care, spending about $500,000 annually on Monkey Island. Meals now happen twice a day. The price grows, though, as the colony does. (Facing backlash, the New York Blood Center agreed to pay the Humane Society $6 million in 2017. At the time, the Humane Society estimated the total cost of caring for the chimps to be $17 million.)
Despite the team of 10 caretakers’ best family-planning efforts, which include vasectomies for males and slipping birth control in sugary milk paste, the chimps have had a few babies. “Very cute accidents,” Humane Society chief executive Kitty Block said.
Over the years, Monkey Island has become a local legend, though some news articles have painted the inhabitants as infectious threats.
“A bunch of ‘monster’ Chimps are living on their own island in a Planet of the Apes meets Resident Evil-style scenario,” read one news story published on an Australian news site.
The public should stay away from animals that might get spooked and attack, he said.
The caretakers dream of building an animal hospital on one of the sanctuaries, as well as a proper security system to keep people away. As of now, one man sits on a small dock off each island, telling onlookers to scram.
That doesn’t stop fishermen from floating over for a peek, and guidebooks from irresponsibly advising tourists to hitch a ride.
No one can get as close as Thomas. Photos show him standing knee-deep in river water, hugging the chimps he sees as family.
He greets them by name: Mabel. Stuart. Juno. Ellyse. Annie.
“I’ll be doing this,” he said, “until they die or I do.”