Oliver’s Playground Opens
By Nicole Rivard
Shrieks of delight and clapping rang through the air at Primarily Primates PPI March 22, but this time it wasn’t the chimpanzees or the spider monkeys or gibbons expressing themselves. It was staff from PPI and Friends of Animals as well as invited guests who gathered outside the new PrimaDome, a.k.a. Oliver’s Playground, to cheer on Wanda and Beau as they experienced the new habitat for the first time.
“This is so emotional,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, as she waited for Wanda and Beau to walk from their enclosure through an overhead tunnel to the PrimaDome.
“This is exciting. It’s incredible to see,” added Don Barnes, who has a long history with PPI. His perseverance resulted in the chimps from the movie Project X finding a new home at the sanctuary.
“The PrimaDome is really a unique design. It’s great. It’s prefabricated and then put together. It’s powerful.”
It wasn’t long before Wanda began rolling in the grass of the enclosure and enjoying the tire swing and Beau climbed gracefully to the top of the cupola.
“Beau and Wanda are such special chimpanzees,” said Brooke Chavez, director of PPI before the chimps explored the new playground.
“Beau is 44 years old and started off at Monkey Jungle in Florida. He made a lot of friendships there according to the documentation that we have read.”
But Beau wasn’t able to breed, so he was given up to the Buckshire Corporation in Pennsylvania, a company that leased animals out for protocols for medical research. He was a wild born animal so there is a possibility he has touched grass before, but his record doesn’t say how old he was when he was brought to the United States.
Chavez went on to say that Wanda was born in a zoo. She was later found as a pet in a brothel in Philadelphia where her owners decided she had grown too large for them to keep. She too ended up at the Buckshire Corporation in Pennsylvania. They came to PPI with two other males and seven other females in 1996.
The seed for the PrimaDome was planted in 2012 when Feral went to Florida and toured the Center for Great Apes, a lovely sanctuary for chimpanzees and orangutans. The lush habitats there are visually striking, with an array of enclosures marketed by PrimaDome. The company designs unique geodesic domes connected through overhead tunnels and archways to other habitats situated around sanctuaries.
Seeing the apes enjoying the vertical space inside the domes, Feral became inspired to introduce this design to Primarily Primates.
Enrichment elements in Oliver’s Playground at PPI include a grassy floor, a variety of climbing structures and hammocks, and a cupola where chimpanzees can climb 25 feet to view the tree tops. Overhead tunnels connect habitats so that three to five groups of chimpanzees have access to this new, exciting area in which to play, climb, socialize and explore.
The flexibility of this new area allows care staff to modify and vary its play elements, while hiding toys and treats for the apes to discover throughout the day.
Oliver’s Playground was made possible by support from the San Antonio Area Foundation and generous donations. Producer and director of Danger Dog Films, Andy Cockrum, joined by his father, made the first pledge to start off the fund-raising effort at PPI .
The Cockrums were on hand March 22 to pull the lever to open the tunnel so Wanda and Beau could make their way to Oliver’s Playground. Andy Cockrum also helped with concepts and design, situating the dome in the area where the late chimpanzee Oliver lived. He is working on a documentary depicting Oliver’s life.
View more photos right here.