I am at Project Chimps today, a sanctuary in Georgia for retired research chimpanzees, visiting with the animals here and their amazing caretakers and staff.
There are 59 chimpanzees on this beautiful, 236-acre forested sanctuary nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and supported by the Humane Society of the United States. This morning I had an opportunity to meet so many of the wonderful residents, each with their own story and personality.
Word spread quickly among the chimps that there was a group of humans visiting, and most of the animals were really excited to see us. They grinned, stared, swung and hung upside-down to get our attention. But one chimp, Chloe, quiet but curious, stood out in style.
Chloe is the youngest chimp in her social group but is wise beyond her years in fashion. After seeing us approach her enclosure, she wrapped herself in a blue shawl and made sure all of us could see her outfit. We all agreed that blue really is her color.
It is thrilling to see how happy Chloe and the other animals are at the sanctuary, after the years that they endured in captivity. Some of these animals have heartbreaking histories, like Kareem, who arrived here in November last year after spending 29 years in various laboratories. Like the other chimpanzees here, he is finally home, and receiving the best care.
The chimpanzees live in four “villas” on the sanctuary grounds, and there is a veterinary hospital here too. Staff members and volunteers conduct careful scientific observations of the chimpanzees to monitor their behavior and use of the enrichment tools offered, and also work to promote the animals’ successful social integration, a core Project Chimps objective.
There’s plenty here to keep the animals occupied, like the six-acre Peachtree Habitat, a lush, forested area with no caging overhead, where the animals can forage, climb and play, exactly like they would in the wild. The animals have plenty of plush toys to play with and carry around – something most of them love to do – and they spend their time eating Icees and oranges and laying in the sun and sleeping. There’s a ball pit to roll in, and other enrichments, including new foods, smells and toys. Caretakers tell me the chimpanzees even have movie nights – with movies featuring other primates, like KoKo the gorilla, being hot favorites.
It’s exactly what retirement should be like.
The HSUS led a decades-long fight to end the use of chimpanzees in laboratory research, and in 2015 we were thrilled when the United States government announced that it would list all chimpanzees as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, effectively ending all invasive chimpanzee research. Helping Project Chimps is part of our commitment to ensure that the animals finally have a place to retire peacefully.
Project Chimps worked with New Iberia Research Center, which houses the largest population of privately-owned chimpanzees in the United States, on an agreement to transfer its entire population of chimpanzees to lifetime sanctuary care. When all the animals from NIRC move in, Project Chimps will house more than 200 chimpanzees.
Future plans for the sanctuary include the addition of three more habitats to provide the space needed to accommodate the remaining chimpanzees. The support of our members, who backed our decades-long effort to secure chimpanzee retirement, is critical to help us achieve this goal. These animals have been through a lot and they deserve a safe, satisfying and permanent home. As we continue to do everything in our power to ensure that they spend the rest of their days in peace at Project Chimps, we hope you will continue to support this important work with the same enthusiasm you always have.