Our movement is taking on one of its biggest projects ever – absorbing the duties of care for hundreds of chimpanzees once used in laboratory experiments and transferring them to private sanctuaries. These facilities, with the help of the public, the government, and animal welfare groups, will take on the responsibility of providing a living environment for 700 additional chimps (including 300 owned by the government), on top of the 500 or so now in a small network of sanctuaries. Just the other night, I spoke at the annual gala of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, which is also planning on taking a number of lab refugees. In all, it will cost the custodians of these animals more than a quarter billion dollars over the lifetime of the chimps.
Yesterday, a partnership agreement was announced between Project Chimps—a new sanctuary in northern Georgia backed financially by The HSUS and other parties—and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) laboratory to retire its more than 200 chimpanzees. NIRC had been the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation in 2009, and the transfer of these chimps represents a remarkable conclusion to a saga that included hundreds of steps to get to this point where the invasive experiments have ended and the chimps are on their way to a new life.
The HSUS and other animal organizations have worked tirelessly for decades to end the use of chimpanzees for invasive research. Some of the most significant gains came last year when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service upgraded protections for captive chimpanzees in response to an HSUS legal petition. Following that decision, the National Institutes of Health announced its intention to retire all government owned chimpanzees, scrapping plans to maintain a colony of 50 chimpanzees for possible future use. These changes have essentially brought an end to invasive chimpanzee research in the United States. But now we must focus on ensuring that the approximately 700 chimpanzees who remain in laboratories are retired to sanctuaries.
The most pressing challenge we face in accomplishing this goal is the availability of enough high-quality sanctuaries to fill this need. Project Chimps is adding a third big facility to the small network of facilities set up to provide long-term care to chimps. The Project Chimps sanctuary is receiving some financial support from the University of Louisiana but will also need significant help from the public to provide all of these chimpanzees with the sanctuary they deserve as quickly as possible.
Stay tuned, as Project Chimps is expecting its first residents to arrive in June. Its leadership plans to eventually house over 250 chimpanzees in nurturing and natural surroundings, ensuring that they have a healthy, enriched, and peaceful future. To help ensure the best possible care for these new residents, Project Chimps has brought together an accomplished team of professionals with decades of experience in the care of these extraordinary animals. You can learn more about the sanctuary here.
We’re glad to have played a role at every stage of this process and thankful to all of the advocates who joined us in taking action when we asked. How phenomenal is it that not only are we celebrating the end of invasive experiments on chimps, but we are also closing in on the mass transfer of chimps from labs to better, healthier, and forever-safe living environments.