The Chimp Haven sanctuary, in Louisiana, USA, has welcomed the chimpanzees that have been retired from medical research labs.
There are over 200 chimpanzees in medical laboratories across the US, mostly government-owned and awaiting retirement. Chimp Haven, a 200-acre forested sanctuary in Louisiana, has received a new cohort to join the hundreds of chimps already in residence.
Many of the new arrivals have been living together for years, and can enjoy their retirement living in large social groups. The group consists of five males and four females, named Tamblo, Pimach, Piplin, Tohbi, and Shahee (males), Mahi, Suhna, Gracie, and Josie (females). Tamblo and Shahee (both 28) have been friends for many years, and can continue to socialise in their new lives at Chimp Haven.
“We are very pleased to share that all of our newest residents are settling in very well,” says President and CEO of Chimp Haven, Rana Smith. “Our teams really get to know the chimpanzees so we can cater to each individual’s unique personality, needs and preferences.”
Chimp Haven is the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary, and is home to more than 250 chimps. It was designated as the federal sanctuary for the retirement and care of chimpanzees used in biomedical research in 2002, and is supported through a contract with the National Institutes of Health.
Chimps have been widely used in medical research studies for the development of vaccines for hepatitis A and B, and treatment for hepatitis C, however in November 2015, new scientific methods and techniques allowed the National Institutes of Health to make the landmark decision to no longer use chimpanzees for their research. This decision, however welcome, has meant that the hundreds of chimps still owned by the government are awaiting retirement.
Chimp Haven are making it their mission to help these chimps, and are currently focusing on expanding to “transition as many former research chimpanzees to sanctuary as possible,” reports Rana. The chimpanzees in residence at the sanctuary are permanently retired, and not released back into the wild. Rana explains that this is due to “a variety of factors, including protecting their health and welfare as well as the health and welfare of wild chimpanzees.”
Despite living in captivity, chimpanzees at Chimp Haven are able to socialize with other chimpanzees as they would naturally, and live in natural environments, in robust multi-male, multi-female social groups. “They are provided daily enrichment activities and items that keep things interesting for them,” explains Rana, as well as “encouraging natural behaviours like foraging, problem solving, [and] using tools to get food out of termite mounds.” The staff at the sanctuary call this ‘The Chimp Life’, as their environment allows them to behave as they would in the wild, and Rana explains that the caretakers at Chimp Haven “enjoy a very special bond with the chimpanzees.” “They get to know each one individually,” she says. “Their likes, dislikes, and unique personalities so that we can always provide them an environment best suited to them.”
The sanctuary is a 501 c(3) non-profit organisation which means that it is exempt from federal tax, and Chimp Haven does receive partial government funding to provide care for the federally-owned and supported chimpanzees. However, it largely relies “on the generosity of individual donors, companies and organisations who care about the important work we are doing,” Rana tells us.
“We do not receive government funding to build more habitats, or any new construction that will accommodate more chimpanzees who are still living in research facilities awaiting sanctuary retirement. – Rana Smith
So what can we as people do to support the sanctuary? To learn about donation opportunities, you can visit the Chimp Haven support page, and if you know of a chimpanzee in the US that is in need of retirement, you can contact the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) at [email protected]. “We are working every day to raise funds and build habitats to bring [the remaining government-owned chimpanzees] home,” says Rana.
Nearly all of the chimps living at Chimp Haven, and all recent arrivals are from US research facilities supported by the National Institutes of Health, and the sanctuary is the only one where hundreds of former research chimpanzees enjoy retirement together.
For more information, head to the official Chimp Haven website and make sure to find out about chimpanzee sanctuaries in other parts of the world.