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 Seven-year-old Kivuli has been able to entice Hercules to play, helping the latter to snap out of his occasionally withdrawn moods.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)