Dr. Miles and the Chantek Foundation have a vision of the future . . .
where great apes in captivity can live in comfortable surroundings, can make choices in their daily lives about their activities, and can engage in meaningful, interesting work whenever they choose. We call this vision The Primate Cultural Center.
Dr. Miles envisions the Center as a biopark cultural center where enculturated apes such as Chantek can use symbols, tools, and computers while living freer and more interesting lives in culture-bearing communities. Great apes in the Cultural Center will be residents, and the activities they perform will replicate the mental challenges they would face in natural settings. Most captive primate habitats attempt to replicate some of the natural physical surroundings, but leave the mental challenges as secondary. The Primate Cultural Center will place mental activities at the core. Researchers, and visitors, will observe cultural processes in the enculturated and dual-cultured communities of great apes. This will be the first Center in the world with such a focus.
A key concept is agency. Enculturated great apes would be seen as persons and as agents not as captive objects or experimental subjects in a collection. They would live in social groups of their own choosing and each morning would select activities for the day. They might wish to spend the day playing in trees, communicating symbolically through sign language or making tools or art objects, or play tic tac toe with a visitor.
Another key concept is “personhood.”The Foundation advocates that Chantek, and all enculturated apes, should be seen as true “orang utans” which means “persons of the forest”, and should be declared as legal persons under the law at an appropriate time in the future. Dr. Miles and the Chantek Foundation are working with other primatologists to make this Center, and this goal, a reality, not only for Chantek for but for all great apes of twenty-first century.
Conservation will be a strong message. Dr. Miles has also observed orangutans in Borneo, and has a passionate commitment to orangutan conservation. The Primate Cultural Center would have an active conservation and education program to make everyone aware of the challenges orangutans face.