Mass chimpanzee transfer begins in effort to protect endangered species

19 September 2016 News

Mass chimpanzee transfer begins in effort to protect endangered species

Oliver Milman | The Guardian | 09/09/16


Project Chimps sanctuary in Georgia will house 200-plus chimpanzees after they were declared endangered, effectively ending experimentation on the animals.

project chimps chimpanzees
 Members of Project Chimps staff sit with chimpanzee who was transferred to the new sanctuary in Georgia. Photograph: Project Chimps

More than 200 chimpanzees are being transferred to a new sanctuary in Georgia, as the US winds down the controversial practice of using chimps for scientific research.

A total of 220 chimps previously housed at the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center will move to Project Chimps. The center agreed to transfer the chimps, which were used for biomedical research, in 2014. 

The move is the largest such transfer since the apes were declared endangered by the US government last year, effectively ending experimentation upon the animals. In November, the National Institutes of Health said there was “no further justification” for chimpanzee medical research and that it would retire its own test animals.

The move has been celebrated by animal welfare groups. Chimps were used in experiments due to their similarity to humans, sharing 98% of the same genes.

“There has been a watershed moment where the public, the scientific community and the government were aligned that this research wasn’t to be done any more,” said Sarah Baeckler Davis, chief executive of Project Chimps. 

“The arrival of the chimps was an overwhelming moment for a lot of us, we have been working on this for a long time. There were tears. There’s a lot of logistics in moving nine chimps 600 miles.”

Project Chimps is a 236-acre facility previously envisioned as a gorilla sanctuary. It has capacity for 80 chimps but is in the process of expanding via individual donations and help from groups including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). It costs about $20,000 a year to keep a single chimp.

The chimps will live in groups of 10 to 20 and have access to a forested area and a villa that was named Cedar Tree by Billie Joe Armstrong, the Green Day frontman who is among donors to the sanctuary. Enrichment will be provided via donated toys, puzzles and magazines – which chimps like to flip through. 

Hammocks have been set up and meals will consist of bananas, apples and “monkey chow” – a sort of chimp-friendly biscuit. It’s hoped that following a quarantine period, limited numbers of visitors will be allowed to view the chimps. The sanctuary will not however be run as a zoo.

Further sanctuaries may be needed, given the limited capacity of existing facilities including Save the Chimps, in Florida, and Chimp Haven in Louisiana. 

Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of HSUS, said sanctuaries “will rely primarily on donations from the public to care for their new residents and to make retirement a reality for many others – so this is just a start, and much more heavy lifting remains. 

“But today, let’s celebrate Project Chimps’ exciting milestone and congratulate the sanctuary on welcoming its first residents. We feel confident they’ll be most excited about their new home.”

In the wild, chimpanzees are listed internationally as endangered due to poaching, infectious diseases and loss of habitat in Africa. Earlier this week, the International Union for Conservation revealed that four of the six great ape species – which include gorillas, orangutans and chimps – are now critically endangered.

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