Disturbing Photos Show Alleged Animal Abuse at Florida’s ‘Monkey Jungle’ Attraction

This popular animal attraction is supposedly a place “where humans are caged and monkeys run wild.” Unfortunately, allegations surfacing this month reveal that South Florida’s Monkey Jungle may be anything but that.

Four employees who once worked as ape keepers at the South Miami-Dade facility say that Monkey Jungle isn’t properly caring for many of its apes and monkeys. Additionally, they allege that the animals live in filthy, cramped conditions for long periods of time and receive minimal medical care.

Melanie Lustig, a keeper who worked at Monkey Jungle from February 2017 until she quit the following September, made her concerns public when she published 28 disturbing photos on Imgur.

Lustig told NBC Miami that some apes live in “very, very small spaces with not enough nutrition, stacked on top of each other” with “not enough ventilation.” But Monkey Jungle presents a very different face to the world in this video:

What happens behind the scenes is the problem, according to Lustig. The apes who are the particular focus of Lustig’s concern include King, a 48-year old gorilla and Mei, a 32-year-old orangutan.

King arrived at Monkey Jungle in 1979 after a life as a performing ape in a Las Vegas circus act. He’s the only gorilla at the facility, which means he has no mate or other gorilla friends to socialize with. Lustig’s photos show a solitary ape with what appear to be open wounds on his stomach.

Open sores on King's back. Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

Open sores on King’s back. Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

Each night, King sleeps in a small, depressing concrete room. ”We give King a single small throw blanket at night to nest/sleep with. Otherwise he is on concrete,” writes Lustic in her caption for this photo:

This is where King sleeps at night.  Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

This is where King sleeps at night. Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

Ultimately, it was Mei’s shoddy treatment just after Hurricane Irma that convinced Lustig to quit. The keepers say Mei suffers more than any of the other apes at Monkey Jungle. She reportedly has three nighthouses, all of which are measly five-foot by five-foot rooms that frequently have feces smeared over the walls.

Her “nest” is often a foul combination of rotten leaves, excrement and old food. And Mei was left in a pile of that disgusting mess for days after Hurricane Irma, according to Lustig.

“I knew it was bad in [Mei’s nighthouse] and I didn’t realize how bad,” Lustig told The Miami Herald. “It was shoveling pile after pile of feces, rotten food, maggots. The stench in there was kind of awful. All [Mei] did was sit there and stare out the window. She was just covered in everything.”

Mei in her nighthouse, with her back drenched in something.  Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

Mei in her nighthouse, with her back drenched in something. Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

The keepers say Monkey Jungle keeps Mei in that nighthouse for months on end — once as long as a year and a half. And now the orangutan is apparently exhibiting signs of depression.

Who can blame her? What kind of life is this? “I couldn’t take having a job where I was back there crying all the time,” Lustig told the Miami New Times.

Other monkeys at the facility face discomfort as well. Lustig reports that sometimes 16 or 17 spider monkeys end up housed in cages meant for fewer than half that many individuals. She also alleges that the staff fails to treat medical conditions adequately, including those sores on King’s stomach and back, as well as Mei’s throat and kidney problems.

According to a former ape keeper who spoke to The Miami Herald anonymously, “The reason why we all stayed for such a long time was because of the animals because we felt that we had a really good team of workers that really cared about the animals.” Eventually, though, each of the four keepers just had to quit.

Mei's nighthouses.  Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

Mei’s nighthouses. Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, or ARFF, has been watching Monkey Jungle with a critical eye for years. Concerned for the apes, ARFF joined the fight after seeing Lustig’s photos and wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ARFF wants an investigation into the facility’s alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

“The fact that these pictures have just emerged from a former employee who wanted to do something about it, this opens up the problem all over again. And we really can see that the problem wasn’t solved in the first place,” ARFF’s Don Anthony told The Miami Herald. “This is the kind of [park] that should have closed down decades ago.”

Mei in her nighthouse.  Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

Mei in her nighthouse. Photo credit: Melanie Lustig

When four employees become whistleblowers on behalf of defenseless animals, it’s time to pay attention. Monkey Jungle has yet to issue any response to Lustig’s photos. Perhaps they have nothing to say because the images speak for themselves.

Monkey Jungle needs to get its act together. If the facility can’t provide a decent, fulfilling life for its captive primates, it should send them to sanctuary. King, Mei and the rest of the monkeys and apes weren’t put on earth to be gawked at by humans. They are individuals with lives of their own – lives that should be worth living.

Monkey Jungle, are you failing these apes in order to make a profit?

Take Action!

Urge the USDA to investigate animal abuse allegations at Monkey Jungle by signing this Care2 petition.

Photo Credit: Melanie Lustig/justice4monkeys on Imgur


Jessica C
Jessica C1 months ago

thank you.

Ellie M
Ellie M1 months ago


Marigold A
Past Member 1 months ago

Thank you for posting.

Angelika K
Angelika K2 months ago

ofcourse signed(shame)

Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago


Annie S
Annie Sousa2 months ago

signed. Its so hard to understand why this place is still up and running

Lesa D
Lesa D2 months ago

#132,878 petition signed...

thank you, Susan...

Annabelle C
Annabelle C2 months ago

Disgusting. Keeping them in there is the same as keeping people in jail. Except these lives have done nothing wrong. The apes and all of the animals there really should be sent to a sanctuary. Hopefully they will be soon!

Sonia M
Sonia M2 months ago

So sad and disgusting.Petition signed thanks for sharing

Julie B
Julie B2 months ago

Yes woth petotion signed. We stand strong and firm in our petitions and suppoert. Petitions begins with the word ' Pet' we shall continue in growing numbers to sign and bring Happiness and freedom to our Animal Kingdom which are Pets Iin their own right thank you