A Heaven for Chimpanzees
Where do you go when you retire?
What are your plans for retirement? I intend to laze about in the sunshine, stirring myself occasionally to converse with old friends.
But what do you do if you've spent your life in a cage, injected with diseases, undergone biopsies and suffered all manner of painful indignities? What if you have no home?
Countless chimpanzees, former lab subjects, circus performers or unwanted 'pets' faced a dismal future of confinement or death. Now there's hope for them. In the retirement village of Chimp Haven, a real Chimp Heaven.
Chimpanzees in Laboratories
Chimpanzees have been used as laboratory subjects in medicine and in space exploration for at least 60 years.
Chimpanzees in laboratories live in 5-by-5-by-7-foot stainless steel cages. They receive food and water but no attention or affection. Let's be real, labs aren't playgrounds or refuges, nor are researchers rehabilitators.
World-renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, after visiting chimps confined alone in cages, wrote : "They are so grateful for a little human contact and love. They reach out to me from their cages in search of a hug or a kiss. And when I turn to leave, they scream and bang the walls."
Chimpanzees have a life span of about 50 years. They can spend decades in cages.
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
Has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
The movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a centre
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly-. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
- La panthre dans le Jardin des Plantes, Paris : Rainer Maria Rilke
Chimps in Space
Photo of Enos from NASA
How you can help
Chimp Haven can't exist without your donations to help defray the expense of caring for the large community of chimpanzees.
The Laboratory Chimp Surplus
The great lab-chimp surplus is mainly due to AIDS.
An aggressive breeding programme was started in the 1980s on the assumption that chimpanzees would be ideal models for developing an AIDS vaccine for people. The assumption was wrong. Chimps can contract the virus, but they're virtually immune to its effects.
So laboratories were left with large numbers of chimps, infected with AIDS, unable to be used in any other research. What could be done with them? The easy answer was to euthanise all the surplus chimpanzees - and this is where Chimp Heaven stepped in.
Where Chimp Haven began
The chimpanzees couldn't go home. They had no home! Originally from Africa where chimpanzees are now a threatened species, these former lab chimps would be unable to live in the wild. On top of that, many suffered chronic illnesses from all of the experimentation.
In 1995, Linda Brent, behavioural primatologist, and Amy Fultz, primate behaviourist, founded a centre to deal with this growing number of surplus chimps.
In 2002 Chimp Haven was selected to construct and operate the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary System. It's an inspired piece of retirement legislation!
Today, over 100 chimpanzees are living the good life at Chimp Haven!
A little Piece of Heaven
Chimp Haven is a Heaven for these retired chimpanzees.
There are two five-acre wedges of woodland, accessed from the chimps' bedrooms and play areas, all under the watchful eyes of animal behaviourists, veterinarians, enrichment specialists and daily caretakers.
The bedrooms have fresh running water and cross-ventilation with lots of light from multiple windows and skylights. The beds themselves are perfect for a chimpanzee, hammocks made of used fire hose, with warm blankets and hay. They even have vanity mirrors!
At last, some peace and, more importantly, dignity, in the lives of these misused animals.
Meet some of the Fortunate Chimps
Sarah, an elderly chimp, spent most of her life in cognitive research with Dr. David Premack's lab at the University of Pennsylvania, with work documented in (1983). She has her own listing in Wikipedia. The Mind of an Ape
Sheba spent the majority of her life at the OSU Chimpanzee Center. She's incredibly intelligent and knows how to count.
Keeli, a handsome robust male, was born at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research.
Ivy was also born at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research.
Emma, a small young female , was born at UTMD Anderson Cancer center.
Harper was also born at UTMD Anderson Cancer Center.
© 2010 Vladimir