When I was elementary school, we got to go on the occasional low-key field trip, like a day hike in a county park to identify local wildflowers. A trip to a private primate sanctuary would have been beyond imagining.

But that’s what a group of lucky students from Mason Preparatory School in Charleston got to do last month. As part of the MasonFEST “Meet the Gibbons” science program, about 10 kids and a similar number of parents, under the guidance of science teacher (and IPPL volunteer) Cindy Renkas, came by for a special tour.

Mason Prep

Students from Mason Preparatory School in Charleston, under the guidance of science teacher Cindy Renkas (far right), got a special guided tour of the sanctuary last month.

Three of our animal caregivers (Meg, Samantha, and Stacy) told the group of the daily routine at the sanctuary and about the gibbons who call this place home. The children got to see for themselves some of our gibbons’ individual personalities and quirks, like Maui and Speedy playing tag or Elizabeth sucking her thumb.

The parents were at least as eager as the kids to be here and asked lots of questions. One mother came even though her two children had previous commitments and couldn’t attend themselves!

The children were for the most part quiet and restrained—except when it came time to hand out the treats they had made especially for our little apes. Then the competition became fierce for Samantha’s attention: the kids would hand her their homemade creations and see how the gibbons reacted when Samantha presented each one.


Samantha was in charge of presenting treats that the students had made to the gibbons (like Scrappy, below, and Uma).

The treats on offer this time were ice cream cones filled with a variety of fruits, nuts, and seeds. Everyone had come up with a different combination of items, including some we don’t see here too often (like flax seeds and mandarin orange segments). Here are Cindy’s instructions:

Six or so wafer style ice cream cones filled with fruits and nuts (the wafer cones have the flat bottoms; please do not use the pointed bottom sugar cones—they are higher in sugar content). Fruits can be fresh or dried. The gibbons love all kinds of berries, mango, apples, grapes, raisins, etc. Dried, unsweetened coconut is another option. All kinds of nuts are good. Please do not include any candy.

Cone treats

Each student brought a cone filled with a variety of healthy treats.

For some reason, a number of the gibbons thought it would be a good idea to eat their cones from the bottom up, never mind that this meant most of the yummy contents would spill out.


Courtney gets very excited when she sees people arriving with treats.

Some (like Elsa) would pick out items from the cone one at time, and others (like Courtney) would flick through the contents, casting aside less interesting pieces (her companion Whoop-Whoop got those)… all while Samantha stood there like the Statue of Liberty holding aloft a treat-filled cone. Until her arm got tired.


Whoop-Whoop had to be satisfied with Courtney’s leftovers (as usual).