If so, I’d like to tell you about Jim Cronin, who had just a high school education and little money. After his high school graduation, he traveled the U.S. with no special goals, doing various jobs, which included becoming a steel worker and doing elevator construction.
But Jim loved animals, read extensively about them and absorbed TV shows that featured them. And in the latter 1970’s, he decided to follow his heart and he got a job at the Bronx Zoo caring for their animals.
It was there Jim found his life’s passion and worked with such joy, that zoo officials recommended him to the preeminent Howletts Zoo in England, which hired him to provide care for their monkeys and gorillas.
Jim loved this assignment and it led him to a dream.
It was to rescue baby chimps and other primates that were being abused and to give them a good home, one that would be warm and loving.
In 1987, Jim learned that in Spain some baby chimps were being drugged, dressed as humans and used in what appeared to be an adorable advertising campaign for tourist resorts. But there was an ugly secret kept from the public. When the chimps got older and were no longer as cute, they were frequently slaughtered.
This sickened Jim. He joined with local animal activists in appealing to the Spanish government to stop this ad campaign and seize and protect the animals. But Jim took it a step further promising the Spanish government if they would do so, he would provide those animals with a loving home.
The Spanish government agreed but how could Jim provide such a home? He was not a rich man and he was not well connected in society. But he didn’t let this stop him, as he located an unused pig farm in Dorset in England. After appealing to the British government, they gave him a $35,000 loan guarantee he used to get a business loan and he leased the pig farm.
With the help of others who shared his dream, Jim began building two-acre enclosures containing climbing apparatus made from old telephone poles and ropes. And they planted trees and shrubs.
Jim was not a businessman but his act of compassion for the little chimps turned out to be a great business idea. His dream became Monkey World, which has now grown into a 65 acre wildlife park, home to more than 160 rescued chimps, orangutans, gibbons and other primate species.
It is one of England’s most popular family tourist destinations, attracting over a half million tourists a year.
You may have seen Monkey World on the TV show “Monkey Business” which plays in about 200-countries on the Animal Planet Channel. Or you may have seen it on CNN, BBC or on another TV station.
It is a wonderful success story but it has another powerful aspect to it. In 1990, Jim’s future wife Alison, who has a doctorate in biological anthropology, began working with him to get the support of 14 crucial nations to enforce global laws to end the trade in primates and protect endangered species. It has been a difficult struggle which continues today.
Recognizing that to succeed it would take dramatic action, beginning in 1996, the Cronins began risking their lives making many trips to Africa, Southeast Asia and Turkey, presenting themselves as prospective animal buyers.
With concealed cameras, they secretly took pictures and collected other information about the animal smugglers. And then they helped local police conduct raids and put these people out of business.
Alison told The New York Times that in 2003, she and Jim went to Thailand where they observed 115 orangutans in various parks. “Orangutans only come from two islands, Borneo and Sumatra,” she said. “Smugglers would kill the mothers, stuff the babies in baskets and then smuggle them out by small boats.”
You can imagine the horrific trauma the babies felt seeing their mothers slaughtered and then the perpetrators grabbing them, tossing them in baskets and harshly manhandling them. Who knows how many frightened and crying babies died in the process.
But because of the attention to their plight brought by Jim and Alison, the parks were raided by the authorities within a week and the animals were humanely sent to Borneo sanctuaries, where the intent is to release them back into the wild.
At the age of 55, Jim recently passed away from liver cancer, but through Alison and through the immensely popular Monkey World, his work lives on. As do little chimps and other primates who no longer served a purpose to their owners.
And it all happened because a young man with little formal education and of little financial means was fascinated by animals and acted on his love for them to pursue his dream.