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The Great Ape Conservation Act

Statement of

Ted Townsend, Founder and Chairman
Great Ape Trust of Iowa

Before the

Subcommittee on Fisheries, ildlife, and Oceans

of the

House Committee on Resources


H.R. 2963

June 23, 2005

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to submit this written testimony.

Great Ape Trust of Iowa

Great Ape Trust is a new research facility dedicated to learning and sharing the truth about apes and using that knowledge to save them from extinction in nature. On behalf of the scientists, educators, caretakers, and staff who eagerly devote their careers to this mission, we urge passage of H.R. 2693.

Great Ape Trust is a fully qualified, public not-for-profit organization located on 230 acres in Des Moines, Iowa. The land was provided in support of our mission by the city and Mid-American Energy Company. It will become the only place in North America with all four species of Great Ape in residence and under long-term cross-generational study for their intellectual capabilities and the cultural transmission thereof. All research done here depends strictly on voluntary participation by the apes and is non-invasive. In time, we will be open to the general public for educational experiences based on the research and related issues. The campus is not designed to guarantee visitors the opportunity of seeing apes, but rather to make it possible for people to learn of apes in more natural settings that respectfully manifest their intelligence.

All facilities at Great Ape Trust are created to meet the distinct social and physical needs of each species and serve to enhance our ability to understand each other. The homes built here set a new global standard for the honorable care of captive primates. We are most proud of this unique organization and the research platform enabled by its existence. We hope the committee members and their staffs will visit soon to see first hand the work here and learn of our ability to contribute to the critically important business of conserving Great Apes. Apes at The Trust will have space, enrichment, and choice beyond anything known before and we fully intend to become the premier center for this research in America. Why?

What justifies the investment of time, effort, resources, and dedication in knowing these animals? Why are they worth saving? How can Great Ape Trust contribute to their conservation in nature? The answers to these highly appropriate questions become self-evident once the results and implications of the research are understood. Great Apes are far more like us than previously recognized. They share many aspects of our mental world, both good and bad, and they construct mental realities of their own filled with symbolic form and content.

The science of Great Apes has advanced dramatically in recent years. Led by a few courageous researchers, the record is becoming undeniably clear. Besides their demonstrable genetic similarity, approaching 99% overlap in DNA, apes acculturated lovingly do come to communicate eagerly, effectively, meaningfully, and interactively. The full reach of their insights remains to be explored, but enough is now known to recognize Great Apes as the premier example of non-human intelligence on Earth. Undeniably, Great Apes are closer to us than any other life form alive today. This is true regardless of how one believes things became the way they are.

The Great Ape Conservation Act

The need to protect apes is critical and our time is short. The Great Ape Conservation Act remains one of the last, best hopes for saving these creatures closer to us than any other life on Earth. Once all measured by millions, Great Apes are now reduced to just thousands at best, (chimpanzees), a few hundred at worst, (mountain gorillas). Most experts predict Orangutans will vanish in-situ within one generation. Ultimate demise of the African apes won't be far behind, under current trends.

Sadly, there is only one reason. Our human actions are killing them. We voraciously destroy their habitats and eat them as "bushmeat", not only in their countries of origin, but in major cities abroad. This unacceptable onslaught has occurred over just the last century, and has accelerated markedly within the last decade. Unless humans alter our thinking in powerful ways, they will all soon be gone and we will never know our tragic loss. We at Great Ape Trust believe the striking facts of their mental awareness, intellectual capabilities, and language potential just might be the key and indeed the vehicle to their survival. After several years of impassioned exhortations and modest scale programs administered by the few enlightened professionals, maybe now a method is emerging to move minds and change behaviors on a meaningful scale. For whenever people learn of apes' remarkable cognition, see their communications, grasp first hand their potential, and understand their reality, we are changed forever. No one can imagine eating a creature with computer literacy, musical skills, tool usage, and language. No one will accept the destruction forever of the last free refuge of beings so like ourselves. Indeed, our differences are only in degree, not in kind.

Science tells us Earth is four and one half billion years old. Some religions believe we live on a much younger planet. Either way, the Great Apes exist. They are here. We see them, communicate with them, learn from them. And in their truth lies their hope. Great Ape Trust will prepare teachers, develop programs, images, DVDs, videos and presentations for use in-situ and ex-situ revealing and proving the intelligence of apes. We will disseminate this striking information to the largest audience possible via electronic means, direct delivery to range country peoples, and proposals to involved commercial interests. As the global awareness of Great Apes' personalities and potentialities expands, this realization of their perception and thought has the power to change peoples' views and reverse humanity's current course of destruction. For indeed, if we are not the only species with language capabilities, we must re-evaluate our self-concept and re-order our relationship to other life around us. We at Great Ape Trust have dedicated our future to this endeavor and we eagerly join with you and all others who are similarly engaged.

Relatively small financial investments can still have significant impacts in range countries, as the activities funded by The Great Ape Conservation Act have so dramatically demonstrated. And, the remarkable research at Great Ape Trust must proceed to expand the frontiers of understanding and conservation. Should we not act now, people will eventually awaken and ask why nothing was done to protect such valuable and sensitive beings.

The right message from the United States Congress will establish a powerful and honorable new ethic of conservation, never needed more than now. Please renew and expand our nation's commitment to Great Apes. Please pass H.R. 2693. We owe it to ourselves to save them. It is our duty.

Respectfully and optimistically,
Ted Townsend