Primate Rescue Center

UK Grad Runs Shelter for Rescued Apes

Erika Fleury August 26, 2015

Only one location in Kentucky provides sanctuary for one of nature’s most intelligent creatures — the primate — and it is nestled safely in the woods on the outskirts of Nicholasville to give its inhabitants a sense of their natural habitat.

The Primate Rescue Center first opened in 1987 as a shelter for monkeys and apes who had been rescued from insufficient, abusive or illegal homes in the U.S. The non-profit organization receives no government funding and operates solely on private donations.

The animals have a lightly restricted daily routine that begins with breakfast and hours of playful interaction. The animals are allowed a high level of freedom to build social skills in their groups, which are structured social hierarchies.

“We have a slow introduction process to integrate an individual into a group, and by assessing personalities and compatibilities in that way, we are able to put individuals together that we assume will get along,” said Eileen Dunnington, sanctuary manager and UK alum.

PRC Sanctuary Manager Eileen Dunnington. Photo courtesy Michael Reaves / Kentucky Kernel

The center houses 11 Chimpanzees and 38 monkeys, including Macaques, Spider Monkeys and Hollywood friendly Capuchin Monkeys that have been seen in films like “Night at the Museum” and “The Hangover II.” “They’re easily trained due to their high intelligence,” Dunnington said of Capuchins.

Once a primate comes to the center, the goal is to house them there for the rest of their lives, which can be about 60 years for a chimpanzee and 25 years for a monkey.

“They don’t have skills to survive in the wild,” said Dunnington, who said much of the primate’s natural habitat is rapidly diminishing, and that they have been exposed to human illnesses, making them a potential health risk to animals in the wild.

Chimpanzees are the closest living species to humans biologically, sharing nearly 99 percent of our DNA. They are highly intelligent animals, capable of using tools and comprehending sign language. “They certainly behave similarly to what you would expect [from] human groupings, or even politics,” Dunnington said. Despite some of their anthropomorphic qualities, chimpanzees are not to be taken lightly, as the average chimpanzee is about seven times as strong as the average adult human male. “They’re almost like a 4 or 5-year-old (human) in an incredibly powerful body,” Dunnington said.

The center is secluded from the public because it has a different purpose than a zoo. The rescue center is for helping animals readjust with other members of their species and lead a fulfilling life.

“We strive to have this as a true sanctuary for them. They’ve had really difficult lives before they’ve come here,” Dunnington said. “Our main priority is their well-being, their comfort and their care.”

- Kentucky Kernel

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