Under new Great Ape Trust membership policies announced today, more visitors will have the chance to experience the amazement of visitors like Kathi Sircy when she saw the world-famous bonobo Kanzi ace a series of cognitive tasks at the internationally respected scientific research institute in Des Moines, Iowa.

In the past, visitors received an educational overview of Great Ape Trust’s scientific, conservation, education and welfare missions, parts of which were too advanced for young audiences. However, the Floods of 2008 that caused about $1.5 million damage to Great Ape Trust’s 230-acre campus destroyed the educational classroom and other administrative buildings. In response, visits have been restructured to allow members more time – a full three hours – with the great apes who call Des Moines home.

This year, Great Ape Trust is expanding membership and visitation opportunities to children of all ages and adding a family package to membership options. Tours will be held on four Saturdays this year to accommodate groups of up to 300 each day. Membership Days are May 30, June 20, July 18 and Sept. 26, and visits are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Membership at the VIP level entitles the member to a private tour for a group of their choosing – from intimate gatherings of families or friends to larger business or social outings.

The 2009 Membership Days tours after the public’s first chance to meet Katy, Rocky and Popi, three orangutans retired from the entertainment industry and living at Great Ape Trust since July. Visitors may already know Rocky, 4, formerly one of the most visible orangutans in entertainment who has been photographed alongside recording artist Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas for Elle magazine and starred in television ads for Capital One and Aflac. Another of the entertainment orangutans, Popi, 37, was one of at least three orangutans appearing opposite actor Clint Eastwood in the 1980 hit Any Which We You Can, and was the featured orangutan in Las Vegas nightclub performer Bobby Berosini’s Lido de Paris floor show at the Stardust Resort & Casino in the 1980s. Katy, 20, Rocky’s biological mother, also was involved in show business before her retirement.

Also new this year, visitors may have the opportunity to watch orangutans Azy, Knobi and Allie and the new residents explore their 3-acre forest yard, one of the largest such facilities for captive great apes in North America. The yard features dozens of climbable trees, giving visitors a glimpse of how the tree-dwelling orangutans travel through the forests in the wild.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to visit the home of bonobos Kanzi, Panbanisha, Nyota, Nathan, Elikya, Maisha and Matata and – if the bonobos wish to participate – see an example of the groundbreaking cognitive research that makes Great Ape Trust unique in the world.

Kathi Sircy of Des Moines is looking forward to her third member visit to Great Ape Trust and another chance to interact with the ape residents. During a previous visit, she and other guests were invited into the bonobo residence for a session that changed her view of great apes and their intelligence.

“We saw amazing and exciting examples by Kanzi, the only bonobo who came out to visit that day, of how he is able to communicate and answer English-spoken questions with symbols,” said Sircy, whose first visit was with a group from the Ruby Van Meter School in Des Moines, where she is a nurse.

“Delighting all the visitors, he was able to choose a reward of his choice, and he chose to have a game of ‘chase,’” Sircy said, describing a game the bonobos enjoy playing with visitors. “I was especially excited, because out of the five different chase game pairs that Kanzi chose, I was in four of them.”

The next time she visited Great Ape Trust, Sircy brought along her husband, David Wright. “My husband was amazed to see some of the wonderful things I had experienced through my first visit,” Sircy said. “Kanzi and Nyota both easily answered questions using the symbols that we couldn’t read or communicate using. When we left, my husband kept saying how much there was to Great Ape Trust and reflected on all he saw and learned that day. I had talked about Great Ape Trust for a whole year, and after that he knew just why.”

To become a member, go to www.GreatApeTrust.org and click on “become a member,” found on the left side of the page. Membership levels are:
  • College student: A $40 individual membership for undergraduate and graduate students. Valid academic institution e-mail address required. Includes one Great Ape Trust Membership Day Tour with one guest and the Great Ape Trust monthly e-newsletter.
  • Senior: A $40 individual membership for anyone 65 years and older. Includes one Great Ape Trust Membership Day Tour with one guest and the Great Ape Trust monthly e-newsletter.
  • General: A $50 general membership for adults 18 to 65. Includes one Great Ape Trust Membership Day Tour with one guest and the Great Ape Trust monthly e-newsletter.
  • Household: A $100 family membership includes two adults and all children ages 18 and younger residing in the same household. Includes one Great Ape Trust Membership day Tour for the household and the Great Ape Trust monthly e-newsletter.
  • VIP: A $2,500 membership includes one Great Ape Trust Membership Day Tour for the household, the Great Ape Trust monthly e-newsletter and a private tour tailored to the group’s size and interests. VIP tours are conducted on Friday afternoons from June through October. VIP members interested in scheduling a visit should call (515) 243-3580 and enter the number “8” when prompted to do so. A representative will help coordinate the visit and tailor the Great Ape Trust experience to each group’s needs.
Memberships support not only the Great Ape Trust public visitation program, but also the scientific and conservation efforts of The Trust.

Great Ape Trust of Iowa is a scientific research facility in southeast Des Moines dedicated to understanding the origins and future of culture, language, tools and intelligence. When completed, Great Ape Trust will be the largest great ape facility in North America and one of the first worldwide to include all four types of great ape – bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans – for noninvasive interdisciplinary studies of their cognitive and communicative capabilities.
Great Ape Trust is dedicated to providing sanctuary and an honorable life for great apes, studying the intelligence of great apes, advancing conservation of great apes and providing unique educational experiences about great apes. Great Ape Trust of Iowa is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization and is certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). To learn more about Great Ape Trust of Iowa, go to GreatApeTrust.org.