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Ape Sanctuary Begins Offering Public Tours

Perry Beeman

Des Moines Register

May 31, 2006

And see: Editorial, "Learn About Apes, Visible or Not"

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]

The Great Ape Trust of Iowa is launching its first season of free tours at the southeast Des Moines research facility.

Groups of up to 30 will get a two-hour visit -- with the possibility of ape viewing, but no guarantee.

The visits will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays from June 6 to Sept. 7 and may be extended if the weather is good.

Reservations are required and can be made only via the Internet at Individual requests will be considered as time permits. Visitors must be at least 10 years old.

The visits will run 10 a.m. to noon. The first half will include an informal education session with 3-D video recreations of the orangutan and bonobo buildings at the center, where scientists are studying the communication, culture and social interaction of great apes.

The center will use an outdoor tent and an auditorium of sorts in an office trailer to brief visitors, who will be outside and walking most of the time.

The visits are likely to include time at an outdoor play area for the orangutans, where visitors could see the apes from bleachers installed outside of the enclosure.

When the bonobos' enclosed outside play area is completed in a few weeks, visitors will have the chance, apes willing, to catch a glimpse from both an indoor lobby and the outdoor, lakeside enclosure.

The center has three orangutans and eight bonobos.

"Everything that goes on even close to those buildings is based on ape science," trust founder Ted Townsend said. Scientists have designed the visits to instill an appreciation for and respect of the apes, he added.

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the lead bonobo researcher, said she hopes visitors later will be able to watch the bonobos from a pontoon boat on the campus lake. She may even take the bonobos on the boat sometime, she added. Long-term plans for a permanent visitor center at the complex are still being debated.

"We want people to understand the intelligence, the emotional sensibilities, the communicative abilities and the creativity of the apes," Savage-Rumbaugh said.

Robert Shumaker, the lead orangutan researcher, said no homework will be required before the visits, but those who go through the introductory visit may very well want to study for a return visit, just because they'll be hooked.

"No particular preparation is required to come but a genuine interest and a respectful attitude," he said.

Learn About Apes, Visible or Not


Des Moines Register

June 2, 2006

If you visit the Great Ape Trust of Iowa on the south side of Des Moines, your human presence will mean three of the world's five great apes will be on site: humans, bonobos and orangutans. Eventually, the research facility hopes to add the two others chimpanzees and gorillas. (No, monkeys aren't apes.)

Now, Iowans can visit. The center is launching its first season of free tours. Groups of up to 30 will get a two-hour visit, with an emphasis on education about apes. The trust isn't a zoo. There is no guarantee you'll actually see apes, but that shouldn't deter anyone from visiting. It hasn't stopped the nearly 3,000 people who have already visited the facility as part of school projects and special tours.

According to Al Setka, director of communications, interest in the facility has come from as far away as Australia. As word gets out that public tours will be allowed, his e-mail box is filling up.

That's because Iowa has a gem here. There are only a few facilities in the world like this one, where the goals are to provide a good home for apes, study their intelligence and behavior and educate the public about saving these animals.

Plus, just the existence of the facility has cleaned up the area. The 230-acre site is a former polluted, deserted quarry. It was home to meth labs and four-wheelers.

"The neighbors are very happy we're here," Setka said.

All of Iowa should be, too.