Hercules, Leo, and seven other retirees arrive at Project Chimps

By on March 28, 2018 with 4 Comments

On March 21, the world changed dramatically for two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who arrived at Project Chimps, a 236-acre HSUS-supported sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia, along with seven other young male chimps who are a part of their bonded social group.

Hercules and Leo, both 11, did not grow up with other chimpanzees. They spent their formative years in a research project at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

In 2015, after years of legal work and pressure from The HSUS and other advocacy groups, the federal government effectively ended the use of chimpanzees in medical research. That development made it possible for more than 700 chimpanzees to be retired from research facilities, but there was not enough space in existing sanctuaries. After its founding in 2015, Project Chimps entered into an historic and constructive agreement with the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) to take in more than 220 privately-owned research chimpanzees. Project Chimps’ founders began fundraising and construction, and welcomed the first group of chimpanzees to permanent retirement in late 2016. To date, five groups of chimpanzees, a total of 40 in all, have been transferred to Project Chimps. Hercules and Leo arrived as part of the fifth group.

Hercules and Leo were born and spent their early years at NIRC, but in 2010, as infants, they were sent to Stony Brook. There, they were used in locomotion studies with electrodes imbedded in their muscles, and forced to walk upright. Hercules and Leo endured there for five years, until 2015, when they returned to NIRC.

NIRC worked to integrate the two, along with other young male chimps, into their present social group of nine. Their group mates include Kennedy, Binah, Ray, Danner, Jacob, Oscar, and Kivuli, ages 7 to 10. According to chimpanzee socialization experts at Project Chimps, this was an important step because many chimpanzees used in laboratory experimentation have behavioral problems that require special attention and care.

Already, the Project Chimps team reports encouraging interactions between Hercules and Leo and their group mates. Seven-year-old Kivuli has been able to entice Hercules to play, helping the latter to snap out of his occasionally withdrawn moods. Meanwhile, the presumed alpha male Ray ensures that any outbursts are resolved quickly, and that serves to lower stress for Hercules, Leo, and the entire group.

Chimpanzees can live for many decades, and at their relatively young age, Hercules and Leo could enjoy 20 to 30 years of comfort, happiness, and safety at Project Chimps. They’re sure to witness dramatic improvements in social enrichment and other features in their new home in the years to come. With support from The HSUS and generous private donors, Project Chimps is building residential villas and outdoor habitats, with the goal of quadrupling the size of the habitat areas over the next five years. Once complete, this $10 million expansion will make Project Chimps a place of even greater respite and tranquility for the chimpanzees for whom it is home. They’ve earned it.

We’re grateful to all of the individuals and organizations that made it possible for Hercules, Leo, and their social group to come to Project Chimps, just as we’re appreciative of the work of many stakeholders to support the transfer of these and other chimpanzees to sanctuary. Their retirement is becoming a reality now, and these remarkable animals are going to receive the very best of care at Project Chimps.

(You can learn more about Project Chimps and its special residents in the May/June 2018 of All Animals)

Animal Rescue and Care, Animal Research and Testing

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  1. Nancy sechrest says:

    Welcome to Kitty But where did Wayne Parcelle go

  2. Anette Legath says:

    I’m looking for information on the trip to Project Chimps- March 21-24, 2019.
    I am hoping this is a volunteer opportunity in which I can help in any way necessary.
    Thank you,
    Anette Legath

  3. Dr Sandra Domizio says:

    25-05-2021: I am writing out of deep concern for Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzee residents of Project Chimps. Hercules and Leo suffered for years in a basement laboratory at Stony Brook University where they were subjected to invasive locomotion studies. Three years ago, Hercules and Leo were transferred to Project Chimps, which, at the time, claimed that they would spend the remainder of their lives at the sanctuary napping, foraging, and climbing pine trees. However, three years since their arrival at Project Chimps, their lives resemble nothing of what was promised. Hercules and Leo are confined to an indoor housing structure and an enclosed porch for all but a few hours a week. Outdoor access is integral to Hercules and Leo’s ability to exercise their autonomy and their physical and psychological health. Your organization took on the responsibility to provide lifetime care to Hercules and Leo and it is HSUS’ duty to provide them with true sanctuary, which includes the freedom to choose how to spend their days. I am deeply troubled that an organization with as ample resources as HSUS has not allocated funds to either expand the existing habitat at Project Chimps or build out a new one. Please take all steps necessary to immediately provide Hercules and Leo with daily access to an outdoor habitat. Please reply to me.

    • Blog Editor says:

      Our understanding from Project Chimps is that these two chimpanzees are now part of a bonded group. All the groups of chimps at the sanctuary get time in the multiacre habitat on a rotating basis, and rearranging schedules to allow for more time for just two chimps would not reflect best practices for a sanctuary charged with caring for and creating the best environment for these chimps over the course of their entire lives. Providing immediate access to Hercules and Leo alone would cause disruption and likely increase conflict among group members. And at this point, any increase in habitat time for Hercules’ and Leo’s entire social group would decrease habitat time for the other chimpanzees at the sanctuary.

      As funders and supporters of the sanctuary, we agree with what has long been Project Chimps’ plan: to build out both the number of staff and the outdoor habitat space to allow more habitat time for all the chimpanzees in their care, thus preserving the healthy social dynamics that are absolutely critical to maintaining groups of happily co-habiting chimps over the course of their lives. We support the sanctuary’s efforts to provide excellent care for not only Hercules and Leo but all of these animals in the ways that best support the physical and behavioral health of both each individual and their social groups. We are working with the sanctuary to target our future financial support toward those needs. Please learn more here.

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