Kiki spent most of her young life in a small cage in a garage. She is now cared for at the Cent for Great Apes, located in Wauchula, where she receives a healthy diet, along with plenty of exercise and space to play.

By Michelle Colesanti

“Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”    -Jane Goodall

Big Ass Fans®, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky understands this, and recently donated 11 fans valued at over $16,000 to the Center for Great Apes, which is located in Wauchula. The massive ceiling fans first hit the market in 1999 under the brand name “HVLS Fan Company.” After years of customers referring to them as “big-ass fans”, the company adopted the name. Visit for more information.

Tess Simon, Public Relations Coordinator from Big Ass Fans® commented, “As we’ve grown, we have been able to expand and reach out with charitable giving beyond our headquarters area in Kentucky. We recently gave fans to a hospital in Rwanda. “

Located about one hour southeast of the Brandon area, The Center for Great Apes is a permanent sanctuary which houses chimpanzees and orangutans that have been used in the entertainment industry or kept as pets by private owners.

The fans were received at the Center in early August, and with the hottest part of summer in progress, the apes were appreciative of the new fans, especially the ones which produce mist. Although very adaptable, the ape’s natural environment does include the rain forest, where the rainforest canopy helps to protect them from the heat.

Casey Taylor, Development Manager at the Center, spent one-and-a-half years volunteering at the sanctuary prior to her full-time position. She said, “Fans make lives easier to keep apes from getting overheated. The fans are important for their health.”

The Center is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is currently home to 45 apes (30 chimpanzees and 15 orangutans) including two who are special needs. Because of their territorial nature, once a male orangutan matures, he must be kept separate from other males, so space is more limited for the orangutans.

The habitats for the apes are both indoor and outdoor. The outdoor habitats are 50 to 80 ft. long and up to 34 ft. tall

Once owned by Michael Jackson, Bubbles is a resident of the Center for Great Apes.
Once owned by Michael Jackson, Bubbles is a resident of the Center for Great Apes.

allowing for plenty of running room, climbing space and height for swinging through their environment. There is a unique 3,500 ft. tunnel system which connects all the enclosures, allowing the apes to run through the woods. Each habitat has attached night houses so the apes can sleep or just retreat from the hot sun. These indoor enclosures are heated in the winter and are strong enough to withstand hurricanes. Security cameras and audio monitors allow the staff to monitor the apes at all times.

One of its most famous residents is Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee, Bubbles, who was adopted by Jackson from a research facility. Bubbles came to the sanctuary in 2005. He is still owned by the Jackson estate, but the Center receives no funding for his upkeep.

Kiki, an orangutan, came to the sanctuary under different conditions. She arrived in 2006, extremely obese. She had been kept as a pet in a private home, but when she grew too big to be handled, she was moved to the garage for over a decade, living most of her life in a small cage that allowed no freedom of movement. She is now getting a lot of exercise along with the playtime she missed while growing up.

All of the apes have their own unique story that brought them to the Center. The sanctuary is not open to the public except for two annual Member Day open houses. The goal of the Center is to contribute to the end of exotic pet trade through education and advocacy. Housed on 125 acres, of which only 25 are currently developed, 22 full-time staff members are currently employed there as well as a few part-time staff members and volunteers.

With a $1.35 million operating budget, it costs $19,000 per year to care for each ape. It is not government funded.

Membership donations are the heart of the organization. Individual level donations begin at $50, which entitles you to visit on the two Member Days (a holiday open house in December and a spring member day in March). The Family Membership ($250) entitles you to a private tour of the sanctuary for up to four individuals. Visit


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Michelle Colesanti
Michelle has been with the Osprey Observer for almost nine years, and her current position is Assignment Editor. She resides in Bloomingdale with her husband Phil, two sons, Philip and Matthew, and Tigger the cat.