Lemures and Monkeys and Bears
Text and Photos by Donna Malloy
A Scaly Experience. Six foot long "Sheba," a red-tailed boa constrictor, wraps her scaly body around the neck of journalist Donna Malloy at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary as owner Debbie Cobb encourages her to "overcome her fears."
My family discovered Florida when I was a freshman in high school. At that time, "kitschy" Florida attractions lined U.S. 41, which was the only major north to south route on the west coast of Florida. Ft. Myers was our ultimate destination, but occasionally we ventured onto roads less traveled and one of them led us to the old "Chimp Farm," now called the "Suncoast Primate Sanctuary Foundation, Inc."(SPS) in Palm Harbor. Bob and Mae Noell started the Chimp Farm in 1952 and upon their death placed the property in trust with the stipulation: "primates must reside on the land in order for it not to be sold" according to Debbie Cobb.
Cobb is the granddaughter of Bob and Mae Noell and the dynamic force behind SPS today. SPS cares for more than 70 animals, including Cheetah, the chimp from Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan movies, Shawn, the finger-painting chimp from Amazing Animals and Kongo, the oldest living chimpanzee in captivity, to name a few.
In the old days, most of the primates' cages were fairly close to the walking trail and as a child, I remember the thrill of not knowing whether a monkey would throw his feces at the crowd or not.
Local resident Catherine Grabowski remembers that well. Grabowski has fond memories of the Chimp Farm and returned today with her son, Blaize.
"It's a hidden gem" Grabowski stated. And Grabowski is not alone in her reverie. Today, many of SPS' visitors are adults who have returned to share this intimate experience with their children.
Cognizant of this, Cobb insisted on positioning the new animal cages close to the observation trail; "approximately 5-1/2' to 6'; I measured." When Bobby the chimp stops dancing, you can observe every detail on his face and hands. Almost 4-years-old, Bobby's antics make him a crowd favorite.
Cobb is passionate about her work and proud to tell you that "the Sanctuary has taken in over 1,000 animals and successfully released 800." SPS is a 501c3, privately funded, non-profit organization. The organization relies on their 150 volunteers, food and vegetable contributions from local supermarkets and community partnerships to keep the machine running.
The foundation is also active in outreach programs for children, teens and seniors and provides on-call disaster assistance to other animal care centers in the state.
"Who do you think they call when a hurricane is coming?" asked Cobbs.
Giving back to the community, SPS provides speakers to Pinellas County and neighboring county schools to discuss topics as animal conservation, the environment and responsible pet ownership.
Primatologist "Jane Goodall said that in our lifetime, we will experience the extinction of 1,000 species." Cobbs emphasizes the 1,000 part.
In addition, SPS partners with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, area churches and safe houses, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Florida Department of Corrections, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and Hospice on many projects and activities and works with students from the Tarpon High Veterinary Science Program, Palm Harbor University medical Magnet program, St. Petersburg College, USF and Bright Futures Program.
Open to the public Thursday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., SPS encourages visitors to "come watch the caregivers tending to and interacting with our residents. Come early, grab a snack bucket, and feed the small monkeys; their antics will make you laugh!" SPS is located at 4600 Alt. 19N, Palm Harbor, Fl. Phone: 727-943-5897 or visit their website at: www.suncoastprimate.org.
On March 7th, SPS will feature finger paintings by some of their more popular apes. Called "Art in the Park," admission will be free. Local artists are also encouraged to sign-up for this unique event.
Cobb's philosophy: "It's not what you do in life; it's what you leave in life that counts." And, like Jane Goodall, Cobb is doing her part to make a difference for all living things every day.
Florida American Alligator. Suncoast Primate Sanctuary's owner Debbie Cobb educates an attentive audience as to the habits and habitat of the young alligator.
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