The first transfer of chimps from the Louisiana lab arrived at the Georgia sanctuary this week
Over the years there has been a shift in how chimpanzees are viewed in a research setting. Originally the animals were used in laboratory testing because of their similarity to humans, but over time scientists have found these close relations do not benefit research in the way they thought they would. This means many laboratories are working to release their chimps to a life outside the research environment.
While this is great news for the animals, it creates a new problem. Where do these chimps, many who have spent their entire lives in a lab, go?
Project Chimps has created an answer for the 220 chimps retiring from the New Iberia Research Center, which is part of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The non-profit was specifically created in 2014 by a group of chimpanzee, non-profit, philanthropic, and legal experts to help create a happily ever after for the primates being released from medical research.
Heading up this important work is Project Chimps president and CEO Sarah Baeckler Davis, a primatologist who saw the opportunity to help the animals she has devoted her life to in a big way and seized it. Through Project Chimps, Davis was able to secure an agreement with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) to take in all of its retiring chimps and provide them with a lifetime of love and care.
The golden years of these 220 chimps will be spent at a sanctuary built in Northern Georgia, designed to cater to every wish these apes could have. Amenities include oodles of enrichment toys, large open outdoor spaces filled with rolling hills to roam, a kitchen designed by Rachael Ray, a full veterinary clinic, breakfast smoothies and more.
“The biggest difference is we’re bending over backwards to meet their needs and we don’t have any other priorities,” Davis told PEOPLE on how the chimps’ lives will change at their new home.
The sanctuary has scheduled the chimps to arrive in social group transfers from the NIRC of about ten at a time, and welcomed the first group this week. The primates stepped off the trucks into their new home, staffed with animal lovers dedicated to providing them with the most satisfying life possible. While the facility was created for the primates from the NIRC, it was built to house roughly 300 chimps, so future retired animals looking for a home won’t be turned away.
“We are pleased the first group of chimpanzees made it safely to Georgia and expect other transfers to go as smoothly. We feel confident that Project Chimps will provide them with the high-quality care that they have been accustomed to receiving,” Dr. Francois J. Villinger, NIRC director, said in a statement.
The NIRC has taken an active role in finding its chimps an ideal place for retirement, with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette contributing funds to help the sanctuary.
Taking care of hundreds of chimps for the rest of their lives is expensive work that takes the dedication of dozens of individuals, but Davis is confident all of it will pay off and is excited to have the opportunity to help these animals.
“I feel privileged to help them live out the rest of their lives,” she said of Project Chimps. Davis is also looking forward to the day that the work of the sanctuary comes to an end, because this will signal an even larger accomplishment.
“On the horizon, we see the opportunity to put ourselves out of business. We don’t want any more, we don’t want any babies born into captivity. It’s not where they belong,” she said.
To help Davis and Project Chimps provide the best retired life possible for these primates, visit the group’s website for more information on the sanctuary and how to donate.