Photo: Gracie relaxing
For almost a century, the United States government supported a practice where chimpanzees where hunted in the jungles of Africa, kidnapping victims and killing any that stood in their way in the name of “science.”
Thousands of chimps have been held captive inside U.S. laboratories, subject to barbaric conditions, tests, and practices that did not stop until June 2015, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated both wild and captive chimpanzees as endangered, giving them protection under the Endangered Species Act. Five months later, the National Institutes of Health announced that they would no longer use chimpanzees for invasive biomedical research, and would retire the remaining chimps reserves and sanctuaries, completing a process it had started in 2013.
Project Chimps was established as a non-profit organization in 2014 the with specific intent to provide sanctuary for more than 220 chimps who were used for biomedical research at the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center. Recognizing the importance of caring for those with the greatest needs, Primatologists and professionals from all over the country left their places of employment to work at Project Chimps’ 236-acre sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia.
In early September, Project Chimps welcomed its first group of nine chimpanzees, (Jennifer, Charisse, Buttercup, Samira, Gertrude, Emma, Latricia, Genesis, and Gracie). They traveled for 16 hours along 600 miles in individual transfer cafes and were reunited on the sanctuary’s “party porch,” where they immediately began hugging, kissing, and grooming each other, showing their joy to be reunited with each other.
The chimpanzees are housed in “villas” that house 10 to 15 residents each, along with a large group building with indoor play areas that will be used for introductions. There is also a Chimp Kitchen, donated, designed, and remodeled by Rachael Ray, where the chimps’ food is prepared. While they mostly eat fresh fruit and vegetables, the kitchen also prepares fruit smoothies for breakfast, as well as more complex carbs like spaghetti and oatmeal.
Project Chimps aims to be able to house more than 220 chimpanzees in need, providing them with the freedom and care that they had been denied as lab animals. Project Chimps’ philosophy is to take each chimpanzee on their own terms, allowing the individual to guide the process for their rehabilitation. Just like human begins, with whom they share 98.6% the same DNA, each chimp has its own clearly defined personality and means to express it.
For example. 11-year-old Emma is described as the group’s Einstein, a crafty and creative soul who takes advantage of every opportunity at her disposal. In contrast, 3-year-old Latricia is an innovator, who enjoys creating new objects—as well as looking at herself in the mirror. Whereas ten-year-old Gracie is a comedian, who likes to play, pound stuffed animals, and wear hats. Thirteen-year-old Samira is more shy, and keeps to herself, just like 12-year-old Gertrude, who apparently, doesn’t like mornings very much.
It costs approximately $20,000 a year to house the chimps in their new habitats; supporters can visit the website to adopt a chimp. Supporters can also help fund the road-to-recovery to offset the fees to transport the remaining 200+ chimps. To help raise money and awareness, celebrities including Serena Williams, Kat Von D, P!NK, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, and actress Judy Greer have lent their support. Although Project Chimps is not open to the public as an attraction, it welcomes visitors for scheduled educational tours and special visiting days throughout the year.
All photos: © 2016 Project Chimps
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.