For Precious and nine other female chimpanzees who have spent their lifetimes in research laboratories, this week marks the beginning of a new existence quite different from anything they have known before. A life where, for the first time, they will get a chance to do some of the things chimpanzees naturally do in the wild, like climb trees, forage under an open sky, and choose their friends.
Precious, along with Jurita, Jamie, Jill, Torian, Tiffany, Tristen, Sophia, Krystal and Haylee, arrived this week at Project Chimps, a 236-acre sanctuary in Georgia supported by the Humane Society of the United States, from the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. The chimpanzees were retired from research in 2015. At Project Chimps they join 39 other chimpanzees who have come to the sanctuary from NIRC over the past two years, as part of a cooperative agreement to relocate more than 200 chimpanzees from NIRC to this peaceful retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Many of the chimpanzees from NIRC were part of a breeding program, so several of the new arrivals are related to other chimpanzees already in residence at Project Chimps: they are mothers, aunts, cousins, siblings and half-siblings to existing residents. It will likely take some time for the chimpanzees to recognize their immediate relatives, because they lived separately from one another at NIRC, but in time we hope they will become one large, happy family.
The group made the 14-hour journey from NIRC to Project Chimps in a special transport trailer and arrived at the sanctuary Wednesday evening, where trained caregivers moved them into a large group enclosure named Chimps Ahoy Villa. They walked willingly from the transport carrier into the villa, some bringing their travel blankets with them.
The chimpanzees in this group are among the oldest to come to the sanctuary, and are mature and confident in comparison to some of the adolescent chimps who arrived in March. The newcomers have quickly warmed up to their caregivers, and are clearly very curious about their new surroundings, absorbing the new sights, smells and sounds of the Project Chimps compound. They’ve had a chance to sample some of the delicious food they will eat, including sweet potatoes and juice and nutritional “chimp chow” biscuits, while the caregivers get to know them and their personalities and food preferences.
Jill, a 28-year-old chimpanzee, immediately took a spot in the window of the villa to watch the staff outside.
The chimpanzees will have an initial 30-day adjustment period, after which they will have their first opportunity to explore the sanctuary’s six-acre, forested outdoor habitat. Chimpanzees can live for many decades, and since many of the new residents are quite young, we hope and expect that they will go on to live long, happy lives.
At 28, Precious is an older chimpanzee and she is also suffering from chronic kidney disease. This is her chance to finally put her feet up and get the rest and relaxation she deserves. We are hopeful that the change in environment will benefit her. While there is no cure for her condition, the sanctuary’s veterinarian and chimpanzee care team will work to provide her with optimal medical care. The care team will closely monitor her fluid intake and weight to ensure optimum health.
Ali Crumpacker, director of Project Chimps, told me that she and others at the sanctuary hope that the increased opportunity for exercise along with an expanded diet of fresh fruits and vegetables will prolong this “precious” chimpanzee’s life. “Our team is prepared to provide the extra attention Precious will need to monitor her health and provide supportive care,” Ali said. “We expect her to live very comfortably with us.”
There will also be one special reunion for Precious: after years, she will meet her daughter, nine-year-old Loretta, who came to the sanctuary some time ago.
We are grateful for the support provided by the American Anti-Vivisection Society and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which funded the transport trailer, and to Kat Von D, for her support to the Chimps Ahoy Villa, where these chimpanzees will live.
Project Chimps is entirely privately funded and is working to raise money to build additional indoor/outdoor habitats needed to accommodate the remaining chimpanzees who will come from NIRC. The sanctuary is nearing the completion of its first phase, which includes five indoor/outdoor chimpanzee group homes that surround a forested, six-acre, outdoor habitat. When complete, Phase One will accommodate approximately 80 chimpanzees. Site preparation is underway for Phase Two, which will progressively accommodate another 150 chimpanzees within three additional habitats. Caring for each chimpanzee costs about $22,000 a year, and your support can go a long way to help these animals, who have spent their lives in research labs, enjoy a well-deserved and peaceful retirement.
Like the other groups and individuals involved in this effort, the Humane Society of the United States stepped up when the opportunity to work with NIRC to provide permanent sanctuary emerged. We hope that you’ll continue to step up as a supporter of this and other efforts to hasten and secure the best possible retirement for chimpanzees in the United States.