IMG_0051-Laura Vees with Tong-compressed

When she started volunteering at IPPL, Laura Vees was a biology student at the College of Charleston. But she wanted experience with a wider variety of animals, so her animal behavior professor put her in touch with us.

“I already knew I loved animals,” says Laura. “I had worked with dogs and cats, but I thought it would be an opportunity to do something with animals I hadn’t done before.” Laura had had experience working at the local no-kill animal shelter, Pet Helpers, but she didn’t know anything about primates.

Laura Vees with Tong

Tong happily accepts a little treat from Laura.


That was over four years ago. She has since come to learn a great deal about primates, of course, both captive and wild. She has also learned about the different gibbon personalities here at IPPL.

For instance, she used to spend lots of time with Whoop-Whoop; he was the first gibbon she fell in love with—the way he wanted to rest his foot on her shoulder or look through her pockets. After he was paired with Courtney, though, it became harder to get quality time with him, since Courtney prefers to have all Laura’s attention to herself. Courtney loves it when Laura plays “chase” with her, running back and forth alongside Courtney and Whoop-Whoop’s outdoor enclosure.

And Laura got to know Cathy, who was very shy around our staff for years, especially while still living with her parents. But Laura was patient. Cathy was paired with Michael last year, and her personality made a significant shift in the process. “It’s been nice to see her open up since coming out from under her parents’ wing,” says Laura. Cathy even accepts food from Laura now.

Igor has come to appreciate her, too. A couple of years ago when we had to re-do the floor in his house, Laura sat with him all day long to keep him from getting too nervous: “After that, he’s been very comfortable and sweet with me. He talks to me, and he’ll let me brush him for however long I do it.”

Laura Vees with Elizabeth

Laura hangs a lunch bucket up for a watchful Elizabeth.


April is National Volunteer Month—and Laura is everything a volunteer should be: hardworking, reliable, and dedicated. She helps with daily tasks like feeding, cleaning enclosures, and providing enrichment, but she has also made herself available for special projects. Like last year’s biennial Supporters’ Meeting, an intense weekend-long event that brings about 100 visitors to our sanctuary. Laura’s familiarity with our animals and procedures was very welcome, as she helped to make sure that everyone—gibbons and people alike—had a safe and enjoyable experience.

Laura Vees at Supporters Meeting 2012

Laura, wearing a green IPPL shirt, was a big help to our regular staff at last year’s Supporters’ Meeting, a weekend-long event featuring speakers from around that world that we hold every other year at the sanctuary.

After graduating, Laura was the full-time manager at a large local kennel, but last fall she went back to school part time, taking a class in organic chemistry, to start working toward a vet tech degree. This semester she continued to work part time and loaded up on the classes, taking courses in organic chemistry, animal nutrition, veterinary terminology, psychology, and ethics. But she still volunteers here every other week!

(Note that when people’s lives get complicated by work and school they usually cut back on volunteering!)

Laura Vees with Helen

Helen loves it when Laura brings by fresh bamboo stalks to play with.


When she’s not busy at work or school, she and her mini-dachshund Olive and three cats make for a happy family. When she comes home at night, Laura will greet Olive with “Eee, eee, eee!” sounds like the ones our gibbon Tong likes to make. Olive gets it.

Laura Vees cutting fruit

Laura helps with a variety of daily tasks, like fixing the gibbons’ lunch.

Thank you, Laura, for being an A#1 volunteer!