The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Great Ape Trust in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Great Ape Trust has been a mystery to most people since the 230-acre research center along the Des Moines River first opened, but Eyewitness News got a rare look inside at some of the world's most advanced research on apes.

The facility is home to eight bonobos and six orangutans that can offer a rare window into mankind's past and future.

"Among the apes and the scientists, it's the most sought-after scientific location in the world," said Great Ape Trust manager Jim Aipperspach.

Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has been studying the apes for more than 30 years.

"They are an alternate version of us," she said.

Since 2004, she and her fellow researchers have created an unusual home nestled into a forest along the Des Moines River.

The center has two buildings, one that's home to bonobos. With names like Kanzi, Nathan and Elikya, they're considered man's closest-living relatives in the ape family.

"Every day, I learn five or ten or 15 things I didn't know the day before when I am working with bonobos," said Savage-Rumbaugh.

The orangutans, including Azy, Knobi and Little Rocky, live next door. They play inside and outside in protected cages, using old fire hoses to substitute for vines in a forest.

"It's one of the best jobs in the world, to be able to have these animals in your life and to be able to ask them questions and allow you to understand them," said scientist Dr. Karyl Swartz.

The center may look like a zoo, but it's more than that. The scientists living here and visiting from around the world said they share a common goal, to talk to the animals and have them talk back.

"In the study of language, we're really investigating the study of culture and the mind," Savage-Rumbaugh said. "We, as humans, do this quickly and easily. Bonobos don't do it as rapidly as we do, but as we look at the species, we can step outside ourselves and start to understand and prove what it is."

The most basic research involves communication boards. Scientists can watch apes communicate as they hear words or see symbols and match them to symbols on the touch-sensitive computer screens.

"They are constantly changing and teaching me about those processes and about the difference between myself and them," she said.

The apes don't just communicate. They can also show off their brain power.

Scientists said that orangutans understand how to use tools and demonstrate it by showing how Azy uses a stick to get a prize from inside a long tube.

"They can plan ahead and they do construct tools that are appropriate for getting something they need, said Swartz.

The dream at Great Ape Trust is to one day house two more homes for the rest of the Ape family, chimpanzees and gorillas. That would mean more research, education and conservation of some of the most intelligent animals on the planet.

"The more we look closely at our nearby living relatives, the more we begin to see they are the forerunners of all of those capabilities," Savage-Rumbaugh said. "We can begin to reconstruct, bit by bit, the kinds of processes that helped us get to the point where we are today."


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