The Great Ape Trust near Des Moines will soon be offering free tours of the facility to small groups. Ted Townsend had the idea to create the trust and funded its development. Townsend says the number one goal of the trust is research — but he says many people have wanted to tour the facility.

Townsend says opening up to more tours is another step in the evolution of the facility — and he says it will help educate people about the apes. Townsend says it will let them learn about the science of the research and find out about the plight of the apes.

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has worked with the Bonobo apes that first arrived at the sanctuary in September of 2004. Savage-Rumbaugh says one of the things they’re working on is a vending machine that the apes can use to get treats and interact with people. She says they want to study human culture and how it works for apes, and one of the basic aspects of human culture is economic exchange. The apes will be able to earn tokens for the machine.

Savage-Rumbaugh says they know that apes have the ability to collect and store tokens, but want to see if they go beyond the hoarding behavior. Savage-Rumbaugh says some of their work is to find out about the ape’s ability to count. She says they want to find out if the apes can count out tokens and learn about saving tokens for treats that cost different amounts. And she says they want to find out if apes who’ve saved tokens will use them to buy things for others. There are also Orangutans at the facility.

Savage-Rumbaugh says the tours will start slowly. She says people will learn what Orangutans and Bonobos are, they’ll learn about keyboards, how to play chase and hide and keep away, and she says the Bonobos will ask for balls and toys. Savage-Rumbaugh says as the tours progress, groups will see more and more action from the apes.

She says you’ll be able to see the apes making stone tools, teaching their young to make stone tools, maybe collecting and hiding money, using sign boards to communicate. The tours will begin June 6th and run Tuesdays and Thursdays through September. Tours must be scheduled through the website: GreatApeTrust-dot-org.

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