JIM Cronin, the founder of Monkey World ape rescue centre, has lost his battle against liver cancer.

The world-renowned primate expert died in hospital in his native New York at the weekend, his wife and fellow conservationist Alison by his side. He was 55.

Staff at the primate sanctuary near Wool were recently told that Jim had been diagnosed with liver cancer earlier this year while travelling with his wife, but despite intensive chemotherapy treatment started a month ago, he succumbed to the disease on Saturday.

Stunned colleagues and staff at Monkey World were told of his death yesterday.

As Jim fought the rare primary liver cancer in hospital, Alison and members of his family in New York had been joined by Jim's daughter Eleanor and close friend and Monkey World colleague Jeremy Keeling.

It is expected that Dr Cronin - who ran the popular 67-acre rescue centre and tourist attraction with her husband since they married in the mid-90s - will return to Monkey World later this week with Jim's ashes, which are expected to be buried at the sanctuary he created and loved.