Lee's Summit Journal

At Monkey Island, exotic animals get second chance, thanks to man with ‘heart of gold’

During a recent visit, Monkey Island Rescue and Sanctuary friend, Noel MacClymont, of Shawnee, shared the love with Booger, a two-year-old Gibbon monkey.
During a recent visit, Monkey Island Rescue and Sanctuary friend, Noel MacClymont, of Shawnee, shared the love with Booger, a two-year-old Gibbon monkey. Special to the Journal

Father. Mother. Caretaker. Friend.

Dana Savorelli has been all to more than 1,000 animals that have found their forever home at Monkey Island Rescue and Sanctuary. Founded by Savorelli in 1996, Monkey Island is a 10-acre site dedicated to the rescue of unwanted, abandoned and abused exotic animals.

At this private facility in Greenwood, lemurs, monkeys, sloths, llamas, Nubian goats, alligators, snakes and many other species have found a safe haven and been restored to health in this natural, wooded setting.

The reasons animals find their way to Monkey Island are as varied as their species. Many have been removed from abusive or neglectful situations by local and regional animal control departments. Others were purchased as babies by owners who were inexperienced or lacked knowledge about their proper care.

“I’m against people owning these animals who don’t take care of them properly,” Savorelli said.

“They often come here after they’ve been deemed too hard to handle or too expensive to keep. We maintain their lives and give them a home for the time that they have left to live, however long that is.”

Life on Savorelli’s Island is very good for the animals.

Monkey Island is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture, a requirement for the variety of species that Savorelli provides sanctuary for. The animals in his care receive medical treatment for injuries and illnesses, a species-appropriate diet and Savorelli’s undivided affection. Animals who need warmth stay indoors during the winter months; those who need colder environments are kept cool in the hot seasons.

Baby monkeys often live with Savorelli in his home for the first few years of their life. Their daily regimen includes cozy blankets, lots of blueberries and bananas, big-screen TV before bed and Savorelli’s limitless hugs.

If he’s passionate about the business of rescuing animals, it may be because, in a way, they rescued Savorelli when he was young.

“From the time I was 5 years old, I had a terrible time reading,” he said. “I had dyslexia and people told me I was dumb or stupid. It scares me to think back about how much reading terrified me.

“But, I had a huge fascination with snakes. My teachers told my mom the only books I would read were about snakes and they said ‘let him go for it.’ I memorized the books and went over and over them.”

This passion for animals, ignited in his childhood, has guided and inspired Savorelli in every choice he has made since. For the past several decades, he has partnered with numerous local and regional animal control departments and rescue groups to assist in some of their most difficult animal rescue situations.

“I’ve spent 25 years in the animal field and it’s not always a joyful picture,” said Kim Hess, director of Lakeside Nature Center. “Dana has decades of experience with exotic animals and helps us with some of our more complicated cases.

“When it comes to owning exotic animals, people often think, ‘Look at this cool pet I have,’ and then realize they can’t take care of it. Dana helps with a lot of these creatures. They have a purpose on this earth and their lives are important to them. Dana sees and responds to that.”

Hess notes that once an exotic animal is kept in captivity, it cannot be released back into its native environment. If animals have been bred in captivity, which is often the case with rescued exotic animals, they cannot be placed in their indigenous habitats because they were never there in the first place.

Creating and maintaining environments that emulate the habitats of the animals in Savorelli’s care requires extensive knowledge, experience and financial resources. Food and medical costs for animals at Monkey Island alone run in the thousands of dollars each month.

The commitment to maintain this haven for his animal friends led Savorelli to found Midwest Tongs in 2006. Midwest Tongs manufactures innovative tools developed by Savorelli that are specifically designed for the handling of animals in captivity and the wild. Used by animal professionals around the world, the tools allow for the safe and humane reaching, lifting and handling of reptiles, mammals and other animals.

“All of my life and resources have gone to the animals. It’s been a struggle at times and there’s always a fine line knowing when to hold them and when to fold them,” Savorelli said.

Fortunately for the animals, he has never given up in the face of the challenges.

“Dana has a heart of gold and would do anything to help any animal, whether it’s a bird or a furry animal,” Hess said. “I’ve known very few people who love animals as much as Dana. He gives so much back to animals that many people disregard and perceive as less than us.

“He makes the world a better place and makes a difference in the world. Helping the animals he does has really changed people’s minds — and the lives of the animals he’s saved.”