By Christine Bryant
Standing outside her Blacklick home, Pam White beams with pride as she looks up at the large enclosure in her yard.
Nine pairs of eyes stare back at her, and behind those eyes are unique personalities and stories of survival. White knows each of them, along with their likes, dislikes, favorite foods and toys, activities they enjoy most and the circumstances behind what have made them who they are today.
As president of the American Primate Educational Sanctuary, White oversees the care of nine white-handed gibbons and two capuchin monkeys on her property. The primates are housed in a nearly 3,000-square-foot sanctuary that includes both outdoor and indoor space.
The non-profit organization, founded in 2002 by White and her husband Don, is a USDA-licensed facility. The Whites rescued a majority of the primates at the sanctuary from private owners who no longer wanted them.
Without the organization, the primates may have been euthanized or sold to research facilities.
Though White has dedicated decades of her life to caring for the primates, who she affectionately calls her kids, their care comes with a high financial cost.
She estimates she spends anywhere between $17,000 and $25,000 a year, depending on donations, to maintain the property and provide veterinary care and food for the gibbons and monkeys.
Each day, the gibbons eat a total of 36 cups of food, while the monkeys eat an additional 4 cups. Their meals consist of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, along with their favorite snacks.
Thanks to donations by Fresh Market on Henderson Road, White’s food costs for the primates are reduced. She also relies on volunteers, who help clean cages and maintain the property, as well as donate much needed items.
Currently, White is raising funds to build a fence around the perimeter of her property. Though the apes’ enclosure is doubled fenced – and in some places, triple – she wants to add another layer of protection for both primates and curious people. Estimates to build a fence have come in at around $15,000, and a GoFundMe account has been set up to help offset these costs.
Once that is accomplished, the next step is to build an addition onto the sanctuary that will include an observation room and rentable space – something that will create a revenue stream for the organization.
Currently, money coming into the sanctuary is limited. Working a job to make ends meet, White still opens the sanctuary to visitors during the summer for a small fee, and hosts students year-round, including ones from local universities.
“Besides me and the zoo, there’s nowhere else for them to go,” she said.
The experience they gain, however, is priceless, she says.
“I have a student who was with me 10 years ago, and who is now at the San Diego Zoo,” White said.
Though she’s had a life-long interest in primates, White got her first monkey, Nikko, 23 years ago when he was just 3 weeks old. Stephanie, Shelby, Yoda, Malakai, Abbie, Sonny, Deana, Gabriel, Trevor and Dudley also call the sanctuary home. She has a unique relationship with each of them, though points to Stephanie as one of the more special because of the trust she had to earn over time.
White recalls listening to a lecture by anthropologist Jane Goodall, who answered a question from the audience that focused on when Goodall first knew she was meant to do her work.
“She said that one Chimpanzee looked her in the eye and instantly bonded,” White said. “Stephanie does that with me.”
It’s that unconditional love that allows White to overcome the challenges associated with running a sanctuary.
“I just think this was the way it was meant to be,” she said.
Want to help?
The American Primate Educational Sanctuary is in need of monetary donations, which can be made through the website, americanprimateeducationalsanctuary.weebly.com. The organization also needs paper towels, Dawn blue dish soap, canned fruits and vegetables, copier paper and HP 564 ink.