Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Monkeying around in Iowa

The facility being billed as an "unzoo" will be Iowa's newest non-attraction. Ground will be broken this fall on the $10 million Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary on the site of an old gravel pit in southeast Des Moines.

It will take until late 2003 to spring 2004 to get the place built. The public will not be allowed in for at least a year, to let the bonobo primates from Georgia and their scientist handlers settle in.

Initial ideas to build it as an extension on Blank Park Zoo were replaced with a more isolated concept.

A spokesman said that the monkeys are coming to Iowa to learn things and enjoy life, not as public entertainment, thus, an "unzoo."

The photo on the front page of the state's biggest paper shows a lethargic-looking ape named Panbanisha, having a bad hair day, communicating by pointing moodily to a set of symbols. Reminds me of some of my dates in high school.

Actually, I had to look twice at that newspaper and the photo of the primate with its picture book - at first I took it to be a story on the recruiting of new offensive linemen for the Hawkeyes.

"The bonobos will show off their athletic skills, their cooking skills and perform plays," the story reads.

Nope, couldn't be major college football players, then - they're way too evolved for that.

The bonobos do plays? Wouldn't it be fun to do an Iowa road company of "Planet of the Apes?"

The last time a bunch of monkeys were playing around with millions on bucks in Iowa, it was the Iowa legislature, and we ended up with our current budget mess.

In light of the current lowbrow campaign tactics, I'm seriously considering voting for one of the bonobos for governor.

It's a curious project, seeming a bit of a strange fit for the nondescript Hubbell Park neighborhood and out of character with Iowa's harsh winters.

Yet it is a fascinating example of development without relying on million-dollar handouts from Vision Iowa public funds. The project is pieced together from a foundation, endowments, private contributions and earned income - it supposedly doesn't cost the taxpayer a cent, and eventually could become a minor tourism attraction and an educational resource as well as a draw for biological scientists from around the world.

Cool. And they can cook, too. I think I'm in love.

Why not populate Iowa with primates? The state has been a leader in environmental efforts, but in our cocoon of no-till farming, it's a good reminder that the environment is not just the creeks and Loess hills we know locally, but that we are distantly connected to the mountains and rain forests and the creatures of the far corners of our world.

Hey, can we count them on the Census?