- Posted April 20, 2012 by
Team iReport featured this story
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Impact Your World
Center for Great Apes
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
Center for Great Ape (part 1)
As I gazed into his eyes, I found myself taken with the fact that he looked an awful lot like me. With a state-of-the-art habitat of iron and concrete between us, not to mention a number of caregivers, volunteers, Lucie Easley my dear friend and board member of the Center for Great apes and the occasional surprise appearance of Patti Ragan, the founder and Executive Director of the Center, all making sure that I never got too close to the enclosure as I snapped off photo after photo of Pongo, the magnificent 260 pound red haired orangutan and one of the reasons why this sanctuary is here today. As I approached his home, he lifted his great bulk and glided across the floor of the four-story structure as if he were a ghost. Not a sound was made until he came to rest, looked me straight into the eye and let out a forceful and confident “Ummmmph!” letting me know who was boss. Before I could begin taking photos, I had to linger, spellbound at the fact of how lucky I was to be locked in a gaze with such a creature, one that I am sure of that could peel me like a ripe banana if he had wanted too. But somehow he knew, in comparison (even though I’m a big guy myself) I was no match for him and he made me feel at ease by returning my curious look. Staring into each other’s eyes, sizing each other up, both smelling the air for our scent, I suddenly realized that we are just a few chromosomes apart from each other, humans and apes, me and Pongo. It was a moment that I will never forget and am honored to have this opportunity that comes just once in a lifetime.
He kept locking eyes with me as if trying to read my soul and what type of creature I was that stood before him. I could tell he was, without words, communicating with me. I had hoped he found me as interesting as I found him and was very impressed when he started to display, an aggressive action of puffing up, grunting and pounding his fist into the earth below him when his mate came too close. He assured me that he was the boss, the one in control and it took no words to know that I wasn’t to come any closer.
After a few awkward moments, we all settled down into the business of the day and the reason why Jeff (my partner) and I were invited to travel to Wauchula, FL to take photos and help spread the message of the Center for Great Apes.
Let me begin by addressing the debate around creatures in captivity,,, many would say that these animals belong in the wild and not in an enclosure and everyone at the Center, from founder to visitor, would agree with that statement. That is the reason why the Center for Great Apes came into being. Many of these inhabitants were born in the wild and as infants were captured to be sold in America as pets. Others were born to their mothers in some breeder's compound and wound up in Hollywood or the Circus. It was human intervention that started their journeys to the Center of the state of Florida, to a place nestled in an orange grove where these fortunate apes can now live a life as close to the ones they began without fear of ever having to perform, be tested on or live in fear in tiny little cages. This sanctuary is over 100 acres of lush tropical forest and orange groves, much like a chimpanzee’s native jungles and the 3 to 4 story enclosures are built better than most homes that humans live in. The sanctuary was once in the path of 3 major hurricanes, back to back in a 6-week period of time and even though they lost over a 1,000 trees, not one ape was injured or one enclosure lost.
(end of part one)