Q. What is the life expectancy of a chimpanzee and an orangutan?
A. Chimpanzees can live to be 50-60+ years of age in captivity and orangutans can live 40-50+ years.
Q. Do the orangutans and chimpanzees understand when you talk to them?
A. Since most of the great apes at the sanctuary are from the entertainment industry or the exotic pet trade, they were raised by humans and can understand a great deal of spoken language. They know their names, the caregivers’ names, and will often respond to caregivers’ requests.
Q. Do any of the apes use sign language?
A. Noelle, a chimpanzee, knows over 40 signs and is the only ape at the sanctuary who understands sign language. She is often seen signing “bird” if she hears a bird singing nearby or “apple” or “biscuit” if she is hungry and it is time for one of her meals. She also recognizes if someone is injured (when she sees a bandage, crutches, an arm or knee brace, etc.) and will sign “hurt.” She learned sign language at the age of three from a former caregiver who had experience working in a chimpanzee sign language study.
Q. How often do you feed the apes and what do they eat?
A. All of the great ape residents at the sanctuary receive three meals a day of fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of leafy greens. They also receive two feedings a day of low starch, high-fiber primate biscuits (which are nutrient-rich biscuits). The apes are also given special enrichment items each day like foraging boards or treat puzzles to keep their intelligent minds stimulated and happy.
Q. What kinds of health issues do great apes have?
A. Chimpanzees and orangutans are so similar to humans, they can catch colds and even the flu. Like humans, they can also can get cancer and other diseases. One of the greatest health risks to great apes in captivity is heart disease. Apes in captivity, particularly males and those that are progressing in age, can be seriously challenged with heart problems such as cardiomyopathy, valvular diseases, and even aortic aneurysms. Heart health statistics for apes in captivity are actually very similar to those of humans. But, what causes these heart diseases in apes? Is it genetics? Is it the more sedentary life of a captive environment? More often than not, cardiac problems come to light when it is too late to prevent or they are discovered after the ape has died.
Our apes’ health is a top priority at the Center for Great Apes. Not only do we give the chimpanzees and orangutans the freshest and most nutritious meals, along with plenty of space for climbing, playing, and roaming the sanctuary grounds in our elevated chute system, but we are also proactive in our apes’ heart health. Our veterinarian has trained some of our caregivers to listen for arrhythmias (irregularities in the force or rhythm of a heartbeat) and changes in heartbeats. As part of our husbandry routine at CGA, these caregivers perform “Doppler training” on the apes. This allows them to use a non-invasive diagnostic instrument to detect and measure the heart rate of our residents.
Q. Do the apes ever fight and injure each other?
A. Great apes are intelligent and sentient individuals and have altercations and family squabbles just like humans. Because of their strength, they can sometimes cause injury to one another. Most often the injuries are small scratches or scrapes and do not require anything other than monitoring to make sure it heals properly. More serious injuries are treated by our veterinarian.
Q. Why shouldn’t apes be kept as pets?
A. Infant chimpanzees and orangutans nurse on their birth mothers for four to six years in the wild, as well as in zoos. They are carried constantly the first year on their mother's body, and they stay with their mothers until they are 8 or 9 years old. They learn all the necessary behaviors, protocols, and skills that they need to interact with others and survive.
When breeders sell chimpanzees or orangutans as pets, they are always pulled from their own mothers within months (or sometimes weeks) of birth, so that the human owners can "bond" with their pets and have more control over them at a younger age and smaller size. Then, when these human-like pets grow to be only about five or six-years-old (still considered infants and almost juveniles), they become extremely strong and have an intelligent mind of their own. Then, the trouble starts for the family. These hand-raised apes are used to living in a house in the company of their human family and are unhappy being suddenly restricted full-time to a cage, or worse, sent to a breeding compound or roadside zoo. To make matters worse, ex-pet great apes have the most trouble interacting with their own species when they've been raised alone in a home because they have not learned the necessary behaviors and protocols to interact with their own species.
Q. Why shouldn’t apes be used in television shows and commercials?
A. Apes used in the entertainment business are taken away from their mothers when only weeks or months old to be raised by humans and taught unnatural behaviors and tricks. But, they only have a working "shelf-life" of six to eight years before they grow too big and strong to be worked safely. Since chimpanzees can live in captivity for over 60 years, where do they go after their working career is over at age eight, and still a juvenile?
The sad fact is that for decades these famous simian actors who made us laugh have ended up as experimental subjects in biomedical research, in deplorable and shabby roadside zoos, in tiny backyard cages, or in breeder compounds where their own babies were pulled from them to repeat the whole process of working young apes for entertainment.
Banner Photo Credit: Colleen Reed