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Laura Clifford September 09, 2014 Comments (0)

At the Primate Recue Center, we make a point to “forage feed” our chimpanzees every day. We do that by chopping a specified amount of vegetables and fruits (70% and 30% respectively) and scatter the mix over a large bed of straw and paper. We then cover the food with another layer of straw and paper so that they can search through the area and pick out foods that they want to eat.


In the wild, chimpanzees spend the majority of their day foraging for food. They are constantly on the move trying to find new food sources, and they will regularly return to areas where they successfully find food. They eat mostly fruits, nuts, roots, flowers, and even a few small animals. Our chimps at the PRC eat mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. When we forage feed, they have a chance to come back to that area and forage for food all throughout the day, similar to what they would do in the wild. We provide a forage twice a day, and in between, they receive a healthy lunch, which we make from our recipe book.

Each chimp has certain foods that they prefer, and they will search through the straw and paper to find the foods they like the most. For example, Martina loves avocado, so she gets very excited when she finds those in the mix. While searching though straw for food might sound unappealing to us, it is a very enriching activity for the chimps.


We also make forage pools for our monkeys. We fill a small pool with pine wood shavings, and then add things like dried fruit, popcorn, and nuts. This will often occupy the monkeys for hours!

Foraging is just one of the many enrichment activities we provide for our residents. Our goal is to give our monkeys and chimps the best, and most natural life possible and activities like this give them the opportunity to use natural skills that they would use in the wild.

Three Rings of Abuse

Eileen Dunnington August 27, 2014 Comments (2)

Ringling Brothers is coming to Lexington on September 5-7, and that’s anything but good news for animal lovers. Although circuses present themselves as wholesome family fun, what goes on behind the bright lights of the big top is truly heartbreaking.

Forced to travel in confined crates, trucks and train cars for more than eight months of the year, circus animals suffer untold pain and anguish in the name of “entertainment.” Evidence of this extreme confinement is often expressed in animals as stereotypical or repetitive behaviors - a result of stress and lack of mental and physical stimulation.

This confinement and restriction also affects necessary socialization and companionship opportunities. As animals are housed improperly, even those that are lucky enough to have companionship opportunities cannot interact in appropriate ways. Limited space causes stress and anxiety to heighten during feedings, transfers, and other interactions.

Rigorous training, performance, and traveling schedules are often used as justification to restrict social interaction. For herd, pack, and troop animals, this isolation is devastating, causing severe mental anguish and early physical deterioration. Animals who are solitary by nature are often stacked in crates directly above or next to others, with no prospects for privacy. By their very design, traveling shows are incapable of providing the necessary space and enriched environments these amazing creatures require.

While the living conditions alone are reason enough to end the use of animals in circuses, the atrocities continue behind the scenes during training sessions. Naturally, animals are not inclined to willingly jump through flaming rings of fire, ride tricycles, or do headstands on stools. The training methods employed to accomplish these ridiculous tricks typically involve force, intimidation, and painful contraptions. Bull hooks, electric prods, spiked whips, and crowbars are frequently used to thrust animals into a desired position or beat them into submission. Food is often withheld in order to compel the animals to perform for their daily nutrition. This brutal treatment is happening behind the scenes all for the sake of “entertainment.”

Knowledge is power, but money creates change. Vote with your feet: boycott any circus, fair or sideshow featuring animals, and encourage your friends to do the same. You hold the key to free these animals from this tormented, unnatural life. Your voice is their only voice, and they need you to speak up for them.

To learn more about this topic, please explore the links below.

VIDEO (WARNING: this video contains graphic and disturbing images)

Enrichment Projects:Chimp Fire Hose Hammock

Melanie Parker July 25, 2014 Comments (0)

Inside the chimp’s night room are several hammocks made of woven fire hose, which are a favorite napping spot for Hazel, Pozna, Noelle, Zulu and Victoria. Providing places like this for the chimps allows them to get away from the group for a bit and practice their nest building skills, much like wild chimps build their nests up in the trees.  With all the wear and tear these hammocks endure, I decided to begin the process of making all new hammocks for our chimps this summer. Working at a sanctuary with a small group of staff and volunteers and a tight budget, we rely on donations (our fire hose was donated from a local fire department) and a lot of creativity to come up with new ways to enrich the lives of our primate residents. With 4 summer interns to utilize, the staff felt it was a great opportunity to get this extensive enrichment project underway. With the old hammock as a guide, the interns and volunteers took measurements and created a “pattern” and list of instructions so that future interns or volunteers could replicate the work. We have recently completed our first hammock and are very excited to install it in the chimp night room so that one of the girls can break it in with a long afternoon nap.

To build one of these hammocks, we used 18 pieces of 3-inch fire hose cut to 45 inches long, and 2 pieces of 3-inch fire hose cut to 90 inches long (these 2 base pieces are what we’ll use to hang the hammock)

Next, holes were punched into the fire hose using hollow punches at points where we would be securing the pieces together. Then we painted the fire hose to seal all the ends and holes to make it last longer, and to add a splash of color to the chimp’s environment.


After drying for a few days, the fire hose was then woven and secured to the base pieces by bolts, large washers, and locking nuts.


The final product is then hung in the chimp night room from 4 bathroom-style safety grab bars.

I'd like to thank the summer interns, Becky, Kaile, Tia and Spencer, and a couple of our summer volunteers, Katelyn and Sydney, for working so hard and creating such an awesome, enriching hammock for the PRC chimps.

Lip Smacking

Laura Clifford July 19, 2014 Comments (0)

We have over 40 monkeys here at the Primate Rescue Center, and the majority of them are macaques. There are many different species of macaques, but they all seem to share some common communication behaviors. One thing that is unique to macaques is a communication gesture called lip smacking. While in humans lip smacking usually just means bad table manners, in macaques it can mean many different things. In fact, researchers are constantly finding new meanings in the communication gestures of monkeys. It is a multifaceted subject, and one we may never completely understand, but what we do know is that lip smacking is a very important part of macaque communication.

The gesture itself is exactly what you might imagine it to be…quickly opening and closing the mouth, causing the lips to smack together and make a noise. (Check out this video of Zoe, one of our long-tailed macaques, lip smacking.) Lip smacking is a social behavior that usually results in friendly interactions between monkeys in a social group. Often, a monkey will lip smack to a more dominant monkey as a sign of submission. You might also see monkeys lip smacking to one another after having a disagreement as a way of apologizing and making sure all is forgiven. It can also be a sign of affection or contentment. Many of the macaques here will lip smack to the caregivers when we are passing out food or coming to check on them throughout the day. It is a sweet gesture and usually you can’t help but do it back!

Meet the PRC Summer 2014 Interns

Eileen Dunnington July 15, 2014 Comments (0)

Tia Hildebrandt

Tia is originally from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and currently attends Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is a sophomore majoring in Psychology and Anthropology with a minor in Biology. She is the President of the Comparative Psychology Lab Club, Co-President of HER Campus, Officer of the Pottery Club, Hip Hop Instructor at the Fitness Center, and Classroom Assistant at Gulfport Elementary. Even with all those extra curricular activities, Tia still finds time to dance, which is her favorite hobby. She loves teaching dance as well and has been passing along her passion to others for 3 years at a local studio. She also loves reading and travel.

Tia aspires to be a primatologist. She hopes to one day conduct behavioral observations in the field and knows that she will be working with primates in some capacity in her future. Tia loves being a part of the PRC “family.” She lives in the PRC apartment on site and “feels like [she] lives in the jungle.” She gets to watch the chimpanzees from an observation window from her living area and has enjoyed getting to know each of the primates’ personalities. Tia’s favorite task is making enrichment for the primates. She makes frozen juice treats and enrichment shakers that they really enjoy, and she loves watching their reaction. This task brings out Tia’s creative side and she works to come up with new ideas to enrich the lives of our residents each day. Tia’s favorite primates are chimpanzees. She has fallen in love with our entire chimpanzee troop and “feels like a mom—[she] loves them all the same!”

Becky Barefield

Becky Barefield is originally from Houston, Texas and currently attends Centre College in Danville, KY. She is a rising junior majoring in Behavioral Neuroscience. She is the Chairwoman for the Student Activities Council, a TriDelta, and in the Student Senate. Becky enjoys many hobbies, including roller blading, reading American classics, watching movies, stargazing, antique shopping, babysitting, and baking sweet treats. Becky has also found a new hobby here at the PRC, where she enjoys spending time with our sanctuary dog Sarah and our pygmy goats.

Becky aspires to be a field researcher of chimpanzees and orangutans. She would “like to study social and environmental adaptation within family and bachelor groups or isolated males.” Becky really enjoys living in the PRC apartment surrounded by the PRC residents 24/7. Her favorite task is setting up the chimpanzees’ playroom area each day and watching the chimps enter the room to play or display with everything that she selected and strategically placed among the straw, paper, and other enrichment materials. Becky says that our chimpanzee “Pozna is my spirit animal—she does everything I would like to do with my day. She goes to sleep early with her stuffed animal, watches movies, stays out of the drama of social life, and generally stays chill and relaxed.” Becky has also developed a connection with our goofy chimpanzee Rodney as well.

Spencer Mattingly

Spencer Mattingly is originally from Berea, Kentucky and currently attends Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. He is a senior majoring in Pre-Veterinary Biology. Spencer has a full plate as he studies and prepares to apply to vet school in the coming year. He plans to become a wildlife or zoo veterinarian. However, he still finds some time to enjoy some of his hobbies, which include hiking, camping, listening to music, watching movies, and spending time with his pets.

Spencer makes the long drive in several days each week for his internship shifts. He has really enjoyed his internship experience and loves meeting all the different animals that call the rescue center home. He loves grooming our sanctuary dogs Tigger and Sarah. He also really enjoys hiding hard-boiled eggs in the playroom for the chimps, which are one of their favorite treats. Spencer has made a special connection with our chimpanzee Cory, whose loud and wild antics have become endearing and lovable.

Kaile Short

Kaile Short is originally from Danville, Kentucky and currently attends Lindsey Wilson College in Colombia, Kentucky. She is an upcoming sophomore majoring in Biology. She is a Bonner Scholar, which allows her to focus on community service. Kaile is on the Track and Field team at Lindsey Wilson College. She also enjoys soccer, playing the flute, and painting.

Kaile aspires to be a veterinarian or zoologist. She has been an off-site volunteer for the PRC since 2013 and has really enjoyed her new role as one of our Summer Session Interns. Kaile enjoys seeing the effect she has on the primates’ lives and directly being able to provide them with stimulating enrichment and interesting food preparations. Her favorite task is making enrichment, because she loves watching how the primates get a new outlook on a task and figure out puzzles and challenges. Kaile has made a connection with our chimpanzee Noelle. Kaile loves that Noelle always takes magazines and papers to “read” later along with her breakfast items as she “dines and dashes” to eat in her own secluded area.


Click here to find out how you can become a PRC Intern.

Carlos Turns 1!

Brandi Hunt June 25, 2014 Comments (3)

Baby Carlos turned 1 year old on June 13th and he has changed so much! When Carlos arrived in September, he was only 3 months old and wanted a lot of attention from the caretakers. He was nervous at first, but he came to love it here. The caretakers made quick work to find him a mother figure to teach him the ropes. The caretakers decided that Dewey and Crunchy were the perfect role models. Within days Carlos fell in love with grandma Crunchy and forgot all about us, which is exactly what we were hoping for! Crunchy became very protective of Carlos and wouldn’t even let Dewey around him at first, but she has calmed down since then. If you look at the pictures below you can see how much Carlos has changed just in his appearance. Of course, that is not all that is different. Carlos is braver when it comes to stealing food from Crunchy and Dewey. He is a very energetic little man who loves to swing on Dewey’s tail and jump on Crunchy’s back. In the future, we hope that Carlos will have more monkey friends to play with. We’re grateful that Lori and her family cared enough about Carlos and were considerate enough to find him a proper home. Happy Birthday baby Carlos. Don’t grow up too fast. 


Upcoming Summer Events

Melanie Parker June 03, 2014 Comments (0)

We’ve got a busy summer ahead of us!

Our Annual Member Event has come and gone, and was a great success. We welcomed about 450 guests, and enlisted the help of 61 volunteers to help us get through the day without a hitch. If you’re interested in joining our Special Event Volunteer Team for next year’s event in May, follow this LINK to fill out an application today.

We’ve also added 4 new interns to our team that will be helping the Animal Care Staff through the summer, so we have plenty of enrichment ideas planned for them to work on to keep our primates interested and occupied as the days start to warm up. Rebecca Barefield joins us from Centre College in Danville, KY, Kaile Short comes to us from Lindsey Wilson College in St. Columbia, KY, Tia Hildebrant has traveled the farthest from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, and Spencer Mattingly joins us from nearby Eastern Kentucky University.

We headed out to Jacobson Park on Friday, May 30th to sell raffle tickets at the Free Friday Flicks event; a night where people from the community can come out and watch a movie under the stars for free, and have the chance to win some great raffle prizes before the movie begins. The PRC is given all the profit from raffle ticket sales, and our event staff always has a great time talking with all the interested children and parents about the primates that call our sanctuary home.

The PRC will soon be enjoying a night with the Lexington Legends baseball team as the Community Organization of the Night on Thursday, June 12 at 6:30pm. At this event we will host a table in the Whitaker Bank Ballpark during the game to promote our organization and inform patrons of our mission, as well as participate in an on-field interview about our organization and an on-air radio interview on the statewide Legends Radio Network.
This will be the third time the PRC has participated in this event, and we’re really looking forward to it again this year!

Sanctuary Manager Eileen Dunnington will be heading to the Boone County Public Library to give a talk about our sanctuary to library-goers on Monday, June 23. This is one of many events where a representative of our sanctuary goes out into the community and surrounding areas to help promote the amazing things we’re doing for primates.

With a full staff of volunteers and interns this summer and plenty of primates to care for, we’re all going to have our hands full with food prep, enrichment, feeding, introducing new residents, cleaning, and educating the community, but we’re very excited to make the most of the warm weather and beautiful days to come and continue to give our primates the best life we possibly can.

Member Day @ the PRC - May 17!

April Truitt April 29, 2014 Comments (2)

The day you've been waiting for all year is nearly here! Our annual Member Event is the one day each year we throw open the gates to welcome our members and supporters to the sanctuary. Gates open at 1:00pm and last guests must arrive by 4pm. Face painting, games for the kids, a craft area, raffle, refreshments, silent auction, gift shoppe - these are just a few of the fun activities we have planned.

Read more.

Why I Support The Primate Rescue Center

Erika Fleury April 22, 2014 Comments (1)

In 2006, I was a somewhat recent college graduate working at a job that I didn’t love. Having recently moved with my boyfriend to a new state, I was searching for roots and a career to which I could feel truly dedicated. If I was going to work hard at something, I knew I wanted to feel good about it at the end of the day.

A few years prior, while taking a primatology course, I became fascinated with the sign language capabilities of chimpanzees. In the years since, I had continued reading every book on great apes that I could find, even scouring the internet for used copies of texts on primate behavior that were often out of date (in both print and in science).

I thought perhaps this drive to read about primates meant something more, so I researched primatology careers. After sending out some letters to primate sanctuaries and foundations, I got a few bland form letters back.

And then the phone rang.

It was April Truitt, Executive Director of the Primate Rescue Center (PRC). I’m not sure why this very busy and driven woman took the time out of her day to pick up the phone and call me, but she did, and I’m grateful because it changed the direction of my life forever.

After completing a detailed application, updating my tuberculosis immunization, buying a plane ticket and packing some clothes that were sure to get filthy, I was approved to complete an internship at the PRC. I had no idea what to expect during my time there, but I knew that no matter what, it was guaranteed to be interesting!

The sanctuary is set back in the Kentucky hills, amidst horse fields, leafy overhanging trees and an honest-to-goodness babbling brook. As I drove down the private road to the sanctuary and waited for the security gate to let me in, I heard chimpanzee hoots and a gibbon whoop, and got chills. This may sound silly, but I honestly felt like I was about to meet celebrities. I wouldn’t have been more excited if it was Johnny Depp waiting beyond those gates for me, because after reading so much about these incredible, intelligent, powerful creatures I was going to be able to observe them in person!

Then things got real.

When I got down to business and worked with the seasoned caregivers, I very quickly learned that the primate residents of the PRC had no sympathy for my feelings of wonder and amazement. There was no time to stand around and gape. Here were their homes and their routines and their social groups. They wanted to play, and they wanted food (now!), and chimpanzee Cory REALLY enjoyed stomping the heck out of the metal flooring in the over-head walkabout when I least expected it. I’m pretty sure he took pleasure in how much it startled me.

This was ok, because after all, my internship wasn’t about me. It was about them.


The spider monkeys have a rather direct way of asking for more food.


There was so much to learn. There were specific foods that some species could have, and very important lists of foods that were prohibited (for health reasons and simply for personal preference of the individuals). The sanctuary staff spent much time preparing vast quantities of food for the residents, and knew just what sort of oddball combinations would be a hit with their diners. I seem to recall marshmallows and spaghetti were involved, as well as copious amounts of roughly chopped fruits and vegetables. Cleaning cages out was an olfactory experience I shall never forget, and I learned the difference between hay, grass and straw…although to be honest with you, my New Jersey-reared brain struggled with that one, and still does.


Surprise grab-bags of food is one way to make primate mealtimes more exciting!


The week flew by.

Towards the end of my time at the PRC, I helped prepare for its annual Member Event. On this one fun-filled and family-friendly day, the sanctuary is able to show off how well it runs to their lucky donors. This well-oiled machine handles the rare influx of visitors well, and large numbers of volunteers help everything run smoothly and safely. Of course, special care is given not to disturb the routines and privacy of the residents, but my unscientific conclusion is that they seem to enjoy the novelty of the day as much as their human relatives do!


Volunteers and staff wait patiently for the first crowds to arrive for Member Event.


My first Member Event passed in a whirl of face-painting, homemade cookies, smiling crowds, and of course, lots and lots of facility tours with the ever-present soundtrack of hoots, hollers and whoops. The sanctuary’s numerous peacocks strolled around and displayed their rainbow of feathers quite often. I think they were jealous that the apes and monkeys were getting so much attention.


Getting a still moment while baby Jane ate was a mixture of patience and luck.


Years have passed since my first visit to Kentucky, and my time there encouraged me to make a difference for primates like those lucky enough to find their way through the PRC’s doors. I wrote a book, Monkey Business: A History of Nonhuman Primate Rights, because I had to tell the stories of sanctuaries, their residents, and the cultural issues that make sanctuaries necessary in the first place. The book, and the opportunities that sprang from it (like writing for the PRC now) never would have been possible if I had not had such a positive experience with the PRC and its talented director, staff and volunteers.

This year I am excited to be able to once again help out for the 2014 Member Event. On May 17th, 2014, the PRC will open up to supporters of the sanctuary. I hope you can become a member and join me in this rare occasion to view incredible animals being cared for in the best way possible, given the often sad circumstances of their early lives. Many of the sanctuary’s residents have suffered mistreatment and neglect prior to their arrival at the PRC, but their resilience is something we can all learn from. Thanks to the PRC, these animals are able to enjoy their remaining years in peace, health, and happiness…often for the first times in their lives.

After seeing the sanctuary and its residents with your own eyes, you might even feel driven to do more to help primates and help the PRC.


Donald, who was most likely born in the wilds of Africa, can once again enjoy nature at the PRC.


The Primate Rescue Center has stayed with me.

Years later, in my New England home, when I hear a recording of chimpanzee pant hoots, I am instantly transported down south and feel excited and comforted, all at once. Lucky is the person who is able to be a part of something great…and I can’t wait to be back.


Laura Clifford March 29, 2014 Comments (1)

Many of our chimps build nests out of the materials we give to them, such as newspaper, magazines, cardboard boxes, and burlap sacks. Two of our chimps Hazel and Pozna, are expert nest builders who can build a nest out of pretty much anything, and make it look comfy enough that even I would consider sleeping in it. In fact, I think both of these girls could win at competitive napping (if that were a thing).

Pozna builds a nest almost every day in one of the corners of the playroom and that is pretty much where she is content to stay all day, everyday. She uses newspaper, straw, pine shavings, burlap sacks, or anything else that could be remotely comfortable. It’s hard to coax her out of her nest so that we can get in the playroom to clean, every morning, and afternoon, but we can usually win her over with a sip of juice and a small treat.


Hazel loves to build her nests in the tunnels that lead from the playroom to the night room. Her material of choice is usually newspaper or brown paper bags, but she will use straw if she has to. Hazel’s nests usually aren’t quite as big as Pozna’s, but they still look like a nice place to spend some time napping the day away. She gets especially excited if she has some stuffed animals to curl up with!

In the wild, chimpanzees build nest, high up in the trees to sleep in at night. They build their nests by lacing together the branches and leaves from the trees until they form a strong platform that can hold their weight. They build them in the trees, so that they can sleep soundly without worrying about any predators (even though they have very few in the wild) that might be on the ground. Obviously, Hazel and Pozna do not have to worry about predators, so their nest building is all for the sake of comfort. Although, they do have to guard their nests closely, as Jenny has been known to take over an empty nest when she sees one!

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