We were fortunate to be invited to share an afternoon with some friends at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida. What an amazing afternoon at an amazing sanctuary! The Center provides a safe environment in a small community with over 100 acres of peaceful tropical forest. The apes and chimpanzees in residence were all raised in captivity by humans and as a result, lack the basic survival skills their chimpanzee or orangutan mothers would have taught them in the wild. Unfortunately, apes and chimpanzees raised in captivity can never be successfully released back to the wild, and this is where the sanctuary steps in.
The sanctuary provides permanent lifetime care to all residents. In fact, Bubbles, who was the late Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee, is one of those residents! In tropical forest surroundings, the chimpanzees and orangutans live and play in large three-story high domed enclosures, the largest being about 70 feet long and 34 feet tall. The enclosures are connected by elevated tunnels giving these great apes the freedom to explore, and in the evening, the residents have “Night Houses” located in high nesting areas. With hammocks and bed shelves, and heating for the winter, they’re strong enough to withstand a hurricane. Additionally, the Center provides for the unique needs of handicapped and older apes as well.
How did the apes come to this sanctuary? Many apes raised in captivity come from the entertainment industry, and once they are done performing, they come to reside in this peaceful environment surrounded by orange groves and away from human development. The Center for Great Apes does not breed, as it would be irresponsible to continue to breed apes for captivity, but focuses on providing the residents with the potential for a safe, healthy, long life.
When living in New Jersey, it was a short trip over the bridge to the Bronx Zoo where the animals were well cared for, but nevertheless I always felt a bit sad for them, as they had lots of street and air traffic noise to contend with. After visiting the Center and enjoying the quiet surroundings, I feel that these apes are lucky to be so well cared for in such a beautiful, tropical spot. The sanctuary has wonderful keepers, all of whom were happy to share the background of each of the residents with us. It was a beautiful day shared with beautiful group of animals and their supportive and knowledgeable caregivers. Please visit the website and meet the apes at: www.centerforgreatapes.org