Brothers get to monkey around thanks to Make-A-Wish


James Cross, 15, center, looks at his younger brother, Wesley, 13, as they make monkey art with various primates at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary on Monday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, September 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 12:05 a.m.

They made an odd grouping ­— two teenaged boys surrounded by chattering brown capuchin monkeys at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary.

But the monkeys that have found a home in the sanctuary outside Gainesville and the boys who came to visit them have more in common than you might think.

They are all survivors.

James Cross is 15 and his brother Wesley is 13. Both boys have a rare inherited disease called ABCA3 protein surfactact deficiency pulmonary fibrosis. Few children born with the disease that scars the air sacs of the lungs survive past infancy.

James spends a lot of time on the computer at home in Missoula, Mont., because he can’t be as active as other kids and is now home-schooled. He has come to love rain forests and the primates that inhabit them.

When the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked James where he’d like to visit, he picked Jungle Friends after studying the sanctuary’s Web site.

Younger brother Wes, who says he prefers tortoises to monkeys, got to come along. So did his mom, Danielle, and stepfather, David.

Kari Bagnall, founder and director of Jungle Friends, has planned out three days of activities for the boys. The sanctuary now houses 116 monkeys — former pets who were turned in when their owners could no longer manage them, roadside zoo residents or lab animals.

James and Wes are helping to chop up and distribute food, fix up the monkeys’ habitats and work with a veterinarian who does blood draws on the animals. There has even been time for a little “monkeying around,” with several monkeys slapping fingerpaints around a white rectangle held by James or Wes to create their own impressionistic art.

The fun came to an end on Monday when the boys had to retreat to a guest house for rest and oxygen. But they’ll be back today, up to more monkey business with their newfound friends.

Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or by e-mail at chund@gvillesun.com.

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