Elana Pisani, exclusive to Global Animal

Negra dons a purple blanket. Photo Credit: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
Negra, one of the seven chimpanzees and Chimp Sanctuary NW, dons a cuddly purple blanket. Photo Credit: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

Following the National Institutes of Health’s recent decision to retire 300 of its chimpanzees used in research, attention is turning to where these chimps will call home.

Sanctuaries within the U.S. are an obvious choice, but not all of them are equipped to rescue new chimps. Sanctuaries will need to expand and they rely on donations to run their facilities. We spoke with Diana Goodrich, Director of Outreach at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest to get a sense of where these sanctuaries are headed and what their needs will be in the future.

Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, located in Washington state, is home to chimpanzees that have been rescued from bio-medical research labs. The chimps Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy, and Negra are collectively known as the Cle Elum Seven due to their location in Cle Elum, WA.  CSNW has a staff of six, all with an academic background in primatology.

Jamie hugs her favorite toy...boots! Photo Credit: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
Another chimp Jamie hugs her favorite toy…boots! Photo Credit: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

Much like humans, the chimps here have a daily routine based around breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The chimps mainly eat fruits and vegetables with the occasional grain, such as Foxie’s favorite, quinoa. The chimps even have playtime and each individual chimp has their favorite toys. Foxie loves troll dolls, Missy loves socks, and Jamie has a fascination with shoes, especially cowboy boots.  

The chimps’ individual personalities are strikingly similar to humans and while staff members try to simulate life in the wild for the chimps, they must take into account the influences of being kept in captivity. Since the chimps came from research labs, they lack some basic skills they would have developed in the wild, and are therefore more human oriented.                  

“Jamie, for example, lived with a human for nine years, and so thinks she’s a human,” said Goodrich.

When the chimps first arrived from the labs, they were quiet. Too quiet.

“For the first few weeks they were very cautious and just trying to lay low…until they were comfortable in their new home,” said Goodrich.

Some had never been outside before or had experienced being in the sun, and within a few weeks the animals physically transformed into much healthier chimpanzees. Their faces darkened from the sunlight and they had stronger, bigger muscles due to the increased size of their living space. 

Jody before she came to the sanctuary and after. Photo Credit: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
Jody before she came to the sanctuary and after. Photo Credit: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a current proposition to include lab chimps as an endangered species. Chimpanzees in the wild are already considered endangered and this regulation would give lab chimps the same protection. If chimpanzees are successfully listed as endangered, then even more of them will need to find a permanent residence.

The chimps also need to find just the right home. Chimps must be carefully integrated into an already established group, and if unsuccessful could result in deadly consequences. For instance, Burrito, the only male chimp at CSNW may not have thrived if he had been placed in a group with other males because he does not display dominance. And at CSNW, Jamie, a female chimp, is the boss—not Burrito.

CSNW and the sanctuaries of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance will need help to give these animals proper care, with some facilities taking in even more chimps in the future. CSNW, in particular, has no plans at the moment to expand, but is always thankful for donations to help support their current chimp family. CSNW is run completely on private donations, and fresh produce—the chimps’ primary diet—is especially appreciated. 

Donate to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest and sign the Care2 petition to give all chimps protection under the Endangered Species Act. 

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Free or Captive: Are All Chimps Equally Endangered?