A project unveiled today in Des Moines seeks to make Iowa as famous for apes as it is for cows and pigs. Ted Townsend wants to build the “Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary”, a research center to study bonobo chimpanzees, on a site east of Des Moines. Townsend says bonobo apes are the closest match to humans. He says their DNA is 99-percent identical to humans. He says they’re an endangered species that need a new home. The sanctuary would be the largest of its kind in North America. The first residents would be a bonobo named Kanzi, and seven of his relatives.Over time they hope to expand the research to include other kinds of apes. Kanzi currently lives at a facility in Atlanta. Townsend says the research would give valuable insight into the major differences that seperate humans from apes.That is our use of tools, art, language and agriculture. Townsend says Iowa could become known internationally as the center for ape research.He says the research is not invasive and the apes enjoy it. Townsend says within two years, the center could also be open for visitors.There are two hurdles ahead of the project. Townsend is seeking to get the Des Moines City Council to donate 137 acres of land for the project. He also needs to raise 10-million dollars in private donations to fund construction. Townsend says it’s possible everything could fall into place to get the construction started yet this year. University researchers say the could be a great research tool for humans too. Dr. Pat Finnerty of Des Moines University is excited about the proposed center.Finnerty says his school is interesting in studying aging in the chimps and how it relates to humans.He says the chimps have a very well documented history. Finnerty says the medical history of the chimps is important in getting an accurate picture of what’s happening to their health as they age.He says the medical history gives a good baseline that you don’t get with humans. He says other university officials are also interested in the center.He says Drake University has done a lot with education. He says if you can communicate with a chimp, you should be able to find a way to communicate with a teenager. The center announced Friday is contingent on the donation of land from the city of Des Moines. The organizer also needs to raise 10-million dollars in private funds.
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