After spending all or most of their lives in a cage with cement under their feet, four walls surrounding them and a ceiling over their heads we figured four or five of them might venture onto the island. But, without exception they all met the challenge and rushed through the open doors.
—Dr. Carole Noon, Save the Chimps
Sanctuaries: restitution for a fortunate few
Chimpanzees, who have been confined in laboratories and used for research, testing or to "breed" more babies for research, deserve to live out the remainder of their lives in dignity and peace. Though, they can never be truly free, sanctuary can provide them with as much relative freedom as possible in captivity… with small privileges that must seem like nothing short of miracles for chimpanzees who have spent decades in labs.
Captive chimpanzees cannot be reintroduced safely into the wild. Sanctuaries—where they live in groups in spacious facilities with free access to outdoor islands, enclosures or overhead "skywalks"—offer these noble beings refuge and some semblance of freedom. Since chimpanzees in captivity can live for more than 50 years, sanctuaries can offer years of safety, comfort and joy for all those now held in laboratories. Approximately 90 percent of chimpanzees currently in laboratories are elderly, many have been in labs for more than 40 years. Sadly, their precious time is running out…
Over the last eighty or so years chimpanzees have been been captured from Africa or bred in laboratories to be used for research. In the last decade, hundreds have been retired to sanctuaries, leaving about 1,000 remaining in U.S. labs. As Project R&R works to pass legislation to end all chimpanzee research, we need your help to make permanent “retirement” in high-quality sanctuaries a reality for all of them who have not yet been released. A portion of Project R&R’s funding is awarded to select sanctuaries, continuing NEAVS’ tradition of supporting a new life for chimpanzees formerly used in research.
Free to be a chimpanzee
Chimpanzee walking on Save The Chimps island sanctuary. Photo: © NEAVS
For those lucky few who make it into sanctuary, their changes in health, well being, and behavior are profound. In a sanctuary setting, chimpanzees at long last have some sense of free will. They enjoy the freedom to move about and to make choices about food, friends, and play. Most importantly, they are finally free from the constant worry—faced daily in the lab—that someone will do something to hurt them yet again.
Some chimpanzees, like Jeannie, had been so traumatized by their years in research that recovery took years and was never really full. While their progress is an inspiration to everyone who knows them, frequent setbacks can put them in full panic—so like humans who have endured extreme trauma. Others, like Dana, enjoy their new lives immediately—embracing new friends and eagerly exploring their new world—free at last to be a chimpanzee.
Facilities considered by NEAVS/Project R&R to be true sanctuaries are those that:
- Are dedicated to educating the public and ending the use of apes in research, entertainment, or other exploitative industries
- Do not permit breeding to ensure that the cycle of captivity is not perpetuated into another generation
- Would never sell or trade chimpanzees for use in research or any other purpose
- Provide their chimpanzees a permanent home
- Are allowed a daily life that includes a main diet of ample fresh fruit and vegetables, social interaction, access to outdoors, and housing and care policies that are determined by their needs and best interests
Even at the best sanctuaries, once removed from the wild or bred in captivity, no chimpanzee can ever be truly free again. We can never give back what was taken from them: the right to be free and live autonomously. This reality makes the imperative to do right by them, even within the boundaries we have imposed on them, all the more urgent and mandatory.