Great Ape Garden

One of our outstanding volunteers has started a garden on the property to grow delicious veggies for our apes! Nancy Sell, a resident of Wauchula, has worked hard every week planting, watering, fertilizing with compost made on-site, tilling, and harvesting in our great ape garden. As of right now, we are growing broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, bok choy, sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, yellow & green bush beans, and carrots. We also have three hills of watermelons, one hill of cantaloupes, 3 hills of cucumbers, and pumpkins. We can’t wait for the right weather so we can grow sweet potatoes. Clyde the chimpanzee will be thrilled- he loves sweet potatoes!

Our volunteer, Nancy Sell

Nancy Sell

Radcliffe is enjoying the first batch of lettuce

Radcliffe with lettuce

John and Nancy Salesky are experienced gardeners (and long-time CGA volunteers) who have also been working very hard each week in the garden.  We are so grateful for the help from our volunteers; we wouldn’t be able to do this without them. We are thrilled to be able to provide fresh vegetables and produce for our apes, as well as saving some much-needed funds to be applied elsewhere for the care of our chimpanzees and orangutans.  Granted, the garden isn’t large enough (yet) for us to be completely self-sustainable with our vegetables and produce, but we have enough land to expand.  Right now, the ape garden is not quite an acre- 80 ft. x 320 ft.  With enough supplies and manpower, we hope to be able to expand our garden and work toward becoming self-sufficient providers of produce for our apes.  If you would like to donate or purchase items for our Great Ape Garden, see our Great Ape Garden Wishlist below!

Dynamic Duo Volunteers, Nancy and John Salesky

John and Nancy Salesky


Check out the broccoli!

Yummy Broccoli

John is hard at work in the garden

John hard at work

Great Ape Garden Wishlist

Large compost bins

15 and 20 gallon Smart Pots

tomato plants and other veggie plants

drip irrigation system (so we can get enough water to expand our garden)

large amounts of compost and fertilizer to expand the garden

a little green house to start seeds and seedlings in cooler weather

metal rakes


pointed shovels

hand-held seed planter

hand tools such as trowels, hand cultivators, etc.


Great Ape Nutrition

We are often asked what our chimpanzees and orangutans eat. To answer simply: we give them three meals a day of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and “primate biscuits” (which are basically thick, granola bar-looking biscuits that have additional vitamins, minerals, and protein needed for their diets ). Orangutans are vegetarians in the wild as well as captivity. Our chimpanzees enjoy a mostly vegetarian diet, but chimps in the wild will sometimes hunt small game and eat it. Our ape nutritionist weighs out the primate biscuits, veggies, and fruits using a formula based on each individual apes’ weight to make sure they are all receiving the proper amount of food in their diets.

This is the Center for Great Apes Feedroom

CGA Feedroom

We’ve found that some of our apes who were raised as pets were not always given the nutritious and healthy meals they should have been given (i.e. pizza, cake, cookies, candy, sodas, etc.). So, once they arrive at the sanctuary, it is difficult to get them to enjoy a nice head of romaine lettuce and fresh vegetables. They would rather have candy or a soda (and who can blame them!). But our ape nutritionist does an excellent job of finding delicious gluten-free and sugar-free recipes for our apes. Surprisingly, with a little tweaking of the recipes, orangutans and chimpanzees can enjoy some of the same foods that we eat! Some favorites are meat-free veggie & bean tacos, Primarily Primates’ version of “Sloppy Joe’s”, fresh greens cole slaw with orange juice dressing, extracts mixed with water to create flavored popsicles, etc.

Different types of primate biscuits

primate biscuits

For our elder apes, they enjoy a nutritious Ensure smoothie with their veggies and primate biscuits to give them the extra boost of vitamins and minerals that they need. A special shake of Spiru-tein mix and whey protein is given to those apes in need of a protein boost, as is oat bran for fiber.


As mentioned in a previous blog, the apes all get “cake” for their birthdays. It isn’t covered in icing or dripping with candy-coated toppings, but it certainly is a special treat. For our summer birthdays, our ape nutritionist will create a frozen masterpiece by freezing sweet fruits in with a juice mixture and decorating the outside with edible flowers and more fruit. Our apes who like to share their birthday treats with their companions really enjoy monkey chow cupcakes, and some will get a big monkey chow cake with peanut butter “icing” and fruit. Another treat the apes love is soft serve ice cream (which is all just really healthy, frozen fruit!) using our Yonanas® ice cream maker. Our apes’ health is one of our top priorities, but we also want them to enjoy their meals.



Becoming Brave

Our adult male chimps, Jonah and Jacob, are the epitome of physical strength and assertiveness.   These former actors make sure to show all our visitors and volunteers how tough they are by “displaying.”  A dominant chimpanzee display typically starts with the chimp standing up and swaying back and forth.  Their hair becomes pilo erect (when their hair bristles and looks more puffed-up). Then the macho male will typically shove enrichment objects around their habitat, push their toys and large items around to make noise, bang on the mesh of the enclosure, all to show how big, tough, and loud they can be.   The purposes of these actions are to appear larger in size to intimidate their inferiors, which Jonah and Jacob achieve with ease.  To watch them is truly remarkable- they are so strong and impressive.

The Twins

But…..recently these “tough guys” showed their more vulnerable and sensitive side.  So what can intimidate a big, strong chimp?  Apparently, grass can!  When we decided to spread grass seed inside the outdoor habitats, the grass flourished and looked just lovely.  But, Jonah and Jacob were scared to step on the new green grass that covered the floor of their habitat.  One of our caregivers snapped the picture below of Jonah thinking about whether or not to place his feet on the lush green grass.


“Go ahead…just step on it, Jonah…just put your feet down, you can do it” the caregiver encouraged. So what did Jonah do?  He raised his foot and tapped his ankle down to touch the grass then immediately raised it back up and decided it was safer on the sidelines.  It is hard to imagine, and quite sad when you think about it, that a chimpanzee would be afraid of something as natural and ordinary as grass. Happily, after the first week, Jonah and Jacob faced their fear and now play and run on the grass.  What brave chimps!

Our Apes LOVE Puzzles!

Our chimpanzees and orangutans love a challenge!  These intelligent great apes are given enrichment throughout the day to stimulate their senses and they enjoy partaking in activities that encourage their natural ape-like behaviors (such as foraging for food).  BUT, when we are fortunate enough to receive puzzles from our supporters for special events like birthdays or a kind “just because,” our apes get really excited!   Our beautiful chimpanzee, Bella, was given an awesome puzzle box for her birthday!  Not only was the birthday girl thrilled, but all the companions in her habitat got to join in on the fun too!

Ellie gathered up the puzzle pieces and handed each one out to the other interested chimpanzees.  But before handing them over, she licked each one!

Mari the orangutan may not have any arms, but that doesn’t slow this clever girl down!  She enjoys the challenge more than anyone.  As a cognitive research subject for almost 20 years, she thrives on new and interesting things to figure out.


Charities, families, businesses and individuals are coming together to transform the giving season. #GivingTuesday partners are supporting communities in need all around the world. From Hurricane Sandy victims right here at home, to the farthest flung village in Africa, the #GivingTuesday community is giving back today and every day. #GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.

Join in on this national celebration of our great tradition of generosity, November 27th!  Check out the Center for Great Apes’ Pinterest account to see some inspirational messages on how YOU can help give back on the National Day of Giving!!!  Tell your friends, family, co-workers:  try to get everyone involved to make this launch of #GivingTuesday a huge success!

Bam Bam’s Gorgeous Grin

One of our supporters graciously donated some large toothbrushes for the apes’ enrichment.  Some of the apes like to scrub things with them, some use them as musical instruments and run them back and forth along the mesh of the enclosures or even use them as drum sticks, and some even like to use them for their intended purpose- to brush their teeth!  Bam Bam thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon of dental care….


Tango even took part in the tooth brushing…just from the other end.

Birthday Blog!

At the Center for Great Apes, we enjoy celebrating the birthdays of each of our apes.  Not only is it enriching for our chimpanzees and orangutans, but it also gives us the opportunity to celebrate their progress each year!  Enrichment is so important for all primates in captivity.  They are highly intelligent and need stimulation and new challenges to keep them happy, healthy, and occupied. Birthdays are just another way for us to do something exciting and fun for our apes!

Pebbles, one of our youngest orangutans, just turned 12 years old.  Our staff held a fun and enriching birthday celebration for her, and she thoroughly enjoyed the delicious treats and attention she received (so did her companion, Christopher!).

The Birthday Girl

Our caregivers sometimes celebrate our apes’ special day by decorating their habitats with colorful paper streamers, leafy green plant browse, and even occasional birthday cards sent by our members. And, there’s always a tasty birthday treat!  This year, Pebbles shared some delicious cupcakes made of monkey chow and mashed apples, covered with peanut butter, guava slices, and grapes with all our 15 orangutans!

Once their habitat is decorated, all the staff are invited to attend and watch the birthday ape (and their companions) explore and find their treats.  (Fun enrichment for both the apes and the staff!)

Handsome Christopher, Pebbles’s companion, enjoyed the birthday party just as much as Pebbles did!

Pebbles knows how to party. What’s more festive than wrapping yourself in red streamers?

Christopher wanted to make sure we got a good look at the delicious monkey chow cupcakes…Thanks, Chris!

Happy Birthday, Pebbles!! 

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Sumatran orangutans


Orangutan chat from the Sumatran Orangutan Society

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