Primate Patron

Pat Kelly wanted to be Jane Goodall when she grew up. Today, she’s on the Board of Directors of the Center For Great Apes, providing care with dignity in a safe, healthy, and enriching environment for all sanctuary residents.
Words by Sandy Lindsey | February 27, 2021 | People

When Pat Kelly moved from New York to Miami in 1972, she immediately joined the Zoological Society of Florida. “It wasn’t long before I volunteered as a Docent at the Crandon Park Zoo, and later ZooMiami where I did a stint as Docent President,” she says. “The experience was transformative. In addition to being great fun — giving tours and going on outreach presentations — it also increased my knowledge and horizons.” Over the years, she’s gotten to meet her heroes…Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikos. She’s also been able to attend numerous zoo conferences and even worked on a ship in the Galapagos Islands. Most importantly, she met her best friend Patti Ragan, at the time a fellow docent, who would become Founding Director of the Center For Great Apes. “Some of our apes come from private ownership situations, the exotic pet trade, or roadside zoos where the size of the enclosure doesn’t allow for movement. They arrive with atrophied muscles, in poor health,” she says. “We have a number of apes who were used in the entertainment industry outgrowing their usefulness to entertainment at around 7 years of age.” The life expectancy for chimpanzees can be over 50 years and approximately 40-50 years for orangutans. “They frequently end up in deplorable situations,” she says. “Watching the transformation from when they first arrive to their current state is awe-inspiring.” During Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Pat, her husband, their two dogs, three birds and two turtles evacuated Key Biscayne and spent the hurricane with Patti, her two dogs, one bird, along with 2-year-old Pongo, and a 1-year-old chimpanzee, Grub, in her Kendall area townhouse (which in the end, was hit harder than Pat’s house in Key Biscayne). “We spent the hurricane listening to Brian Norcross on a transistor radio,” she says. “Simultaneously, we tried to comfort two infant apes that were very frightened by the storm.”;