Showbiz apes find peace through painting in Florida retirement - GulfToday

One-time movie stars, apes display their artistic side in new role at special centre in Florida


Some of the "ape art" created by the orangutans and chimpanzees that live in the Center For Great apes (CGA).

They were once stars of their movies, emerging with an importance bigger even than the hero. Some of them acted in a remake of the science fiction hit Planet of the Apes, while another worked with one of Hollywood's leading actor-directors Clint Eastwood. Yet another was the favourite of Michael Jackson.

Now, alas, dumped by the movie industry or even their celebrity owners for having lost their utility appeal, they live in a unique sanctuary in central Florida, where they have become – hold your breath – artists.

On tables arranged among the trees, the organisers display paintings created by the chimps and orangutans, abstract and vibrant with colour. On a paper to one side, the visitors write down their bids for the artwork.

"I'm very proud to know that this is a wonderful place for them," says Terrie Thomas, 60, her voice trembling slightly. "It makes me really emotional to talk about it because I really, truly love these animals. I think they're amazing."

The description of one painting by Jacob explains that the chimp "especially enjoys painting, and he usually likes to taste each bright colour before he puts it on his canvas."

About 53 chimpanzees and orangutans manifest their creative talent  None of them have basic survival skills to ever live in the wild. They do not know how to gather food, and the mothers would be incapable of caring for their offspring.

For that reason, they had no other place to go when Hollywood or scientific research labs had no more use for them.

One of them worked alongside Clint Eastwood, others acted in the remake of sci-fi classic "Planet of the Apes."

The lucky ones make the final journey to this oasis, officially known as the Center for Great Apes (CGA) in Florida, in the southeastern US.

It is the only accredited orangutan sanctuary in the western hemisphere and one of only nine chimp sanctuaries in North America.

One of the more recent arrivals is 33-year-old orangutan Sandra, who joined the CGA community last November, after a court in Argentina declared her a "non-human person" with the right to liberty from a Buenos Aires zoo where she had been kept.

Ape art

The CGA is located on 40 hectares (98 acres) of wooded land near Wauchula, surrounded by central Florida's orange groves.

The entrance to the sanctuary does not call attention to itself, with well-trodden dirt tracks snaking between the trees and connected by raised corridors along which the apes can move about.

In the clearings are the enclosures, like giant bird cages, full of plants, toys and things for the apes to climb on.

Sandra the Orangutan at her new zoo home in Wauchula, Florida.

It is one of the few places in Florida to have been opened in secrecy, rather than with the usual fanfare of theme parks and tourist attractions. It is neither a zoo nor a park, does not accept visitors and does not promote itself.

Only donors can visit, and then only by invitation, and just a couple of times each year to get to know the apes. Even then, they are banned from posting pictures on social media.

"Their (the apes') well-being is priority," said Ragan.

Supporting each animal costs around $23,000 per year, and together with other running costs, the sanctuary needs $1.8 million every year. It is financed solely by voluntary donations.

Agence France-Presse

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