The Humane Society of the United States led a decades-long fight to end the use of chimpanzees in research. After the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted on our petition to declare all chimpanzees as endangered in 2015, effectively ending such use, we supported the creation of Project Chimps, a 236-acre sanctuary in Georgia where retired chimpanzees could finally put up their feet. Fifty-nine chimpanzees now call Project Chimps home, including 10 who arrived at the sanctuary just last week from the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. As these newcomers settle into a life of well-deserved peace and rest, I’ve invited Project Chimps Executive Director Ali Crumpacker to take us on a journey through the life of Alex, one of the new arrivals.
Alex, a chimpanzee, spent 34 years in research laboratories until just 10 days ago, when he was transferred from the last research facility he will ever know to his permanent home, Project Chimps.
Alex, who our caregivers describe as calm and stoic, is now the oldest resident at the sanctuary. He is old enough to have seen and experienced things that we want to help him forget.
Like all of the chimpanzees in our care, Alex has a serial number tattoo that distinguishes him from other chimpanzees used in research. And from that tattoo number, we can sift through the archives and find some of his old records.
While not every detail of his life in research is known, information from published studies show that Alex spent much of his adolescence in New York at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP). At one point in its history, LEMSIP housed more than 600 primates who were subjected to intensive biomedical research in areas, including reproduction, blood transfusions, hepatitis B and HIV science.
We know that at LEMSIP, the chimpanzees were housed individually in small, steel lab cages that hung suspended above the floor. The chimps were only taken out of their hanging cages to be used in experiments.
In 1995, LEMSIP announced that it would close and transfer all its primates to the Coulston Foundation, a laboratory in New Mexico where a variety of research was conducted, including toxicology testing. This decision was made despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had filed formal charges against Coulston for the negligent deaths of chimpanzees and monkeys. It is highly likely that Alex was one of those chimpanzees.
Between 1995 and 1997, LEMSIP’s veterinarian, Dr. Jim Mahoney, managed to place 109 chimpanzees and 100 monkeys in sanctuaries throughout North America.
But not Alex.
Alex, who was only 11 years old when LEMSIP announced it was closing, would spend another 23 years being used in research. We don’t know all of the details, but his tattoo appears in a hepatitis C study that occurred when he was only 12. The experiments performed on him in the past place him at risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer today.
We can only wait and see if Alex will develop these conditions. And we don’t mind waiting. After all, Alex waited 34 years for this moment of freedom. He could have had it 23 years ago but his number wasn’t called.
Last week, it finally was.
On his 34th birthday, Alex made the journey to Project Chimps with nine other former research chimpanzees. The new arrivals included females Chloe, 14, Betty, 15, Harriett, 15, Lucky, 15, and Panielle, 17, and males Collin, 16, Jermaine, 28, Kareem, 29 and Ronald, 30. Their journey was made possible by a decades-long battle led by tireless advocates, including the Humane Society of the United States.
In 2015, the HSUS led the effort to change the laws that would essentially prohibit the use of chimpanzees in harmful research. With the federal policy victory secured, the HSUS then helped to establish Project Chimps, a 236-acre facility in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia that would be able to provide these chimpanzees with a forever home. In just three short years since we purchased this property, we have been able to move seven groups of chimpanzees, a total of 59 individuals, into permanent sanctuary.
But more than 150 still remain at the research facility, awaiting their turn.
While our team works to build new homes for the waiting chimps, our caregivers are getting to know Alex and the other nine chimpanzees as the unique individuals they are. There’s Kareem, the gentle giant, who weighs in at 220 pounds yet kindly gives “gifts” of food, nut shells and leaves to his new caregivers. And playful Lucky, whose beautiful face is easily recognizable due to a skin condition called vitiligo. Lucky is shy and energetic and our caregivers have learned, the hard way, that she’ll spit at you if you stare in her direction too long!
In December, Lucky, Kareem, Alex and their group mates will have the chance to go outdoors into our forested, six-acre outdoor habitat for the first time. They’ll have grass under their feet and an open sky above. We look forward to that day because it’s their time to experience the outdoors. It’s their time to leave the memories of research behind.
It’s their time to live.
Alex and the other 58 chimpanzees now living at Project Chimps have the good life. But we want to make room for 150 more. More habitats and villas will need to be constructed to make space for all the chimpanzees who need a home. If you would like to learn how you can help us build more habitats, and faster, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 706-374-3675 x 215, and get involved by making a gift. With your help, we can do for them what we’ve done for dozens of other chimpanzees already.