Black & white ruffled lemurs at Wildheart Animal Sanctuary (photo thanks to Chris Boyce & The Wildheart Trust)

Wildheart Animal Sanctuary’s New Primate Rescue Centre

Behind the sturdy Victorian walls of what was once Sandown Fort, Wildheart Animal Sanctuary has been undergoing something of a transformation. No longer a zoo, the team now work with a new mission: to rehome rescued animals and the world’s most threatened creatures, as well as putting the Isle of Wight at the forefront of endangered species protection.

Standing next to an enclosure of talkative spider monkeys, Wildheart’s Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Bates awaits, ready to unveil the site’s latest construction: a state-of-the-art Primate Rescue Centre. Like a bamboo version of the Eden Project, it includes two giant domes (the tallest is 12 metres high!) planted with trees to recreate a rainforest canopy and including a network of tunnels leading to a row of cosy dens. This pioneering project is the first of its kind in Europe and the only bamboo home for any animal in Britain.

Wildheart trust dome during construction, Isle of Wight - thanks to The Wildheart Trust

Not surprisingly, the new facility’s eco credentials are second to none, as Wildheart aims to lead from the front and show the world what’s possible. Lawrence explained: “We looked at every single element that went into the design to see how we could do that as sustainably and harmoniously as possible, so the impact of what we’re doing is minimal”.

The 777 bamboo poles are carbon negative, the dens are furnished using wood from a tree blown down in storm Eunice and insulated with bales of British straw, trees are native and good for pollinators and pathways were created with hardcore made from the crushed remains of a dismantled swimming pool!

A lemur at the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary (image thanks to Chris Boyce & The Wildheart Trust)

To begin with, the breathtaking domes (to which so far everyone who has seen them has said “wow”) will house the much-loved lemurs (whose fans include V.I.P. visitor, Dame Judi Dench) but will soon have another important role too. Following the campaign to ban the keeping of primates in captivity in UK homes – something which is shockingly still legal – and a new bill from the government is soon set to make it a criminal act. As a result, a wave of rescued marmosets, tamarins and other primates are expected – but Wildheart’s domes will be ready and waiting to offer these needy animals some relaxation, rehabilitation and a new forever home in the future.

Serval in the grass at the Wildheart Animal Sanctuary (image thanks to Chris Boyce & The Wildheart Trust)

In other exciting developments, Wildheart is soon to welcome two rescued tigers (saved from a lorry bound for Russia, where it’s thought likely they’d be killed for their body parts) and settling in, close by, are the newly saved serval cats (these are wild cats native to Africa and cross bred with domestics to breed designer ‘Savannah cats’ – the banning of which is Wildheart’s latest campaign).

As we leave Lawrence to his important work, it certainly feels like change is in the Sandown air today – and it’s clear this is just the start for Wildheart and their team with even bigger things on the horizon.

  • A version of this article, written by author James Rayner, first appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of Wightlife magazine.
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