A horrific tale of cruelty turned into a beautiful story of hope after a spider monkey is rescued from captivity. Pepe spent eight years chained up by his neck. He was part of an illegal circus and his handlers abused him. He was cut off from others of his species and brutally crippled so he could not fight back. Thanks to Animal Defenders International, he has a new lease on life.

19. Pepe the Spider Monkey

Image: ADI

Pepe the spider monkey survived horrific abuse. He was kept by an illegal circus, chained up to a wall by his neck for eight years. The monkey was isolated and alone, not able to socialize with any other monkeys. His handlers snapped off his canine teeth so that he was unable to defend himself. Animal Defenders International (ADI) is an American international campaigning group, with offices in London, Los Angeles and Bogotá. The organization has been involved with several international animal rescues, funding both the relocation and rehoming of circus lions, tigers, chimpanzees and other animals and has become a major force for animal protection, succeeding through its undercover investigations in securing legal protection for animals.

18. 39 Animals Returned to the Wild

Pepe wasn’t the only animal who was found tied up and abused b ADI. Pepe and 38 other animals in a similar situation were freed by ADI and returned to freedom in the Amazon. The release provoked such joy in the animals that it moved rescuers to tears. ADI’s Operation Spirit of Freedom rescued the 39 monkeys, coatis and kinkajous over the past several months.

17. Amazing Rescue

“When we got to the end we all cried,” Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International (ADI), observed. “Their response was just wonderful. They ran all around, swinging on the vines – they were just fascinated by the trees.” It is hard to grapple with the idea that these Amazon natives had never had access to their natural habitat, the trees.

16. Operation Spirit of Freedom

Operation Spirit of Freedom is a project in concert with the Peruvian government to crack down on illegal use of animals in circuses. Peru banned circus animals back in 2011. Many of the animals who wound up in circuses were stolen from their mothers as infants and sold into captivity. Usually this meant that the mothers were killed because they would fight to the death to save their babies.

15. The Crack Down

Image: Clanimal

The animals were then kept all alone, occasionally in pairs, but almost always in abusive conditions. The government and ADI started cracking down on the circuses, rescuing many animals who were initially kept at a shelter in Lima. ADI rescuer workers then went to work helping the scared animals regain their confidence in their natural instincts.

14. Hope for Pepe

Image: ADI

“Just with us these past six or seven months he’s learned a different kind of life,” Creamer said of Pepe. “That he could have freedom, and most importantly that he would never be hurt.” This marked a completely different experience than Pepe had ever known. He had never been given the chance to climb or play, and had little experience communicating with his own species.

13. Jungle Sanctuary

Image: ADI

Operation Spirit of Freedom finally closed as ADI transferred the 39 rescues from their temporary shelter to their new permanent home. ADI has an enormous enclosure at the Amazon jungle sanctuary Pilpintuwasi. The Pilpintuwasi Orphanage is a wildlife rescue and temporary custody center located on 20 hectares of land in the village of Padre Cocha, 20 minutes outside of Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon.

12. Sanctuary

Image: ADI

At the sanctuary, the staff works with the ecological police to take in animals confiscated from markets, airports and homes, which often arrive with injuries and malnourishment. Unfortunately the animals will never have all of the skills they need to live completely in the wild. Once the animals have recovered, many live free of cages, or in large enclosures that are the same as they would find in their natural environment.

11. Peru Helps Animals

Image: ADI

The entire government of Peru was on hand to escort the animals to their new home. Pepe and his friends were given a send off by Peru’s first lady Nadine Heredia. The Peruvian Air Force volunteered to fly the special animals 600 miles to the sanctuary. Even the Navy got in on the act, letting ADI use their dock in the Amazon rainforest.

10. A New Era

ADI had laid the groundwork for such cooperation for a number of years by advocating for animal rights and for a circus animals ban. According to Creamer, the partnership had paid off. “They’re very determined to make this law work, the officials.”

The only catch was that the animals had to travel in large animal-safe crates. They were not thrilled about returning to cages, since their time in the temporary shelter had been the first freedom they had known. They were reluctant to give it up. “We saw some little worried faces in the cages,” Creamer said.

9. Comforting Words

The ADI team did all they could to let the monkeys know that they would be okay. They talked to them in soothing voices, and held their hands through the cage bars. They fed them special treats to reassure them that the end result would be worth the very long flight. Their effort finally paid dividends.

8. Native Environment

Image: ADI

When the monkeys made it to their native jungles, they seemed to know immediately they were home at last. Many of the monkeys couldn’t hide their joy. The results were mind-blowing. “You could see what you could only describe as joy on their faces,” Creamer said. “They immediately ran up to the turrets so they could see what they could see.”

7. Touching Reaction

Image: ADI

One unforgettable reaction made everyone cry. A monkey named Cindy wasn’t tentative at all. She immediately ran into her new surroundings. “She ran up to a tree and hugged it,” Creamer said. “We did a lot of crying.” Who wouldn’t cry witnessing such a thing?

6. Skeptical Pepe

Image: ADI

Pepe wasn’t quite sure at first what was going on. He didn’t like the plane ride and had spent such a long time in captivity that he was suspicious. ADI workers went inside the enclosure with him and then he realized it was safe. The overjoyed spider monkey gave Creamer a big hug. Then he ran to the trees to go “swinging about.”

5. Beautiful Habitats

Image: ADI

The new home for these animals is an enormous enclosure with trees, bushes, ropes, rocks and many other furnishings. As Creamer observed, “They’ve got a very rich environment. There’s a lot of jungle around there, beautiful natural habitats.” No expense was spared in setting them up for happy lives. Most monkeys will stay at the sanctuary, although a few spider monkeys may one day move into a rehab facility.

4. Best of Both Worlds

Image: ADI

ADI intends for the sanctuary to be the best of both worlds for animals which have imprinted on humans to such an extent that it isn’t safe for them in the wild. There is nothing in the environment which could hurt them, which is a big deal, since the animals were ripped away from their mothers before they could learn to sense danger. “They had no one to teach them,” Creamer explained. Meanwhile, the monkeys will have the sounds and sights of a traditional Amazon rainforest.

3. Quick Studies

Image: ADI

Even the furnishings were chosen to encourage the monkeys to live the way they were meant to. “They don’t know how to build nests so we put some hammocks in there and put straw in them, so they get that at night they should build nests,” Creamer said. The monkeys have proven to be quick studies.

2. Social Interaction

Image: ADI

Creamer believes the best part for the monkeys is that they can finally live with others of their own social groups. Since most were taken from their parents as infants and then keep isolated, they never got the chance to live and communicate with other animals. This is a key issue that prevents them from being able to live safely in the wild. “They don’t really know how to behave, and they don’t really understand the culture,” Creamer said. “And that can be a problem for them.” But at the sanctuary, the monkeys love living with each other.

1. Supporting More Rescues

Image: ADI

ADI also moved 35 non-native animals, including 33 lions, a tiger and a bear, to Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary in June. It cost around $1.2 million to rescue these 80 animals. To support the work of ADI as it turns its focus to Columbia and Mexico, which recently banned circus animals, you can donate on their website.