Captive Research Chimp Population Gets A New Home In Georgia

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Project Chimps Chimpanzee One of the nine chimpanzees transferred to the Project Chimps sanctuary in Georgia yesterday.
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A CHIMPANZEE RETIREMENT COMMUNITY

Blue Ridge, Georgia is a small town of just over 1,200 people bordered by forests and wilderness. Yesterday morning, the small town got nine new neighbors: Jennifer, Gracie, Genesis, Buttercup, Charisse, Emma, Gertrude, Latricia and Samira. They weren’t human.

The nine newcomers were all chimpanzees that are now being housed at a nearby sanctuary called Project Chimps, a newly opened sanctuary for chimpanzees that are no longer being used in research. The nine chimps that were moved today are a vanguard for a group of over 200 chimpanzees that are being moved from the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center to their new home in Georgia, where they will live in social groups in small villas, with lots of access to open outdoor space and toys.

The move is due in large part to actions that the federal government took in 2015, when the United States Fish and Wildlife service changed the status of all chimpanzees from “endangered” to “threatened,” extending protections to the captive population that were not previously available. Then, the National Institutes of Health officially ended all use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. Those actions solidified a long-standing trend moving away from using chimpanzees in medical research.

“There’s been this landscape change on the federal level regarding chimps and research,” Sarah Baeckler Davis, President and CEO of Project Chimps tells Popular Science. “We’re at a point now where the public and policy makers, and politicians and scientists, are all on the same page that chimps should not be used in research anymore.”

All of the 220 chimps being moved from New Iberia to the Project Chimp facility were born in captivity, and the New Iberia Research Center says thatvery few of the chimps in their colony were ever actually used for research. But with funding for chimpanzee-based research drying up, it was time to move the chimps from their working home and into a retirement facility.

That’s where Project Chimp entered the picture. They began speaking with New Iberia in 2014 about taking in the entire population of the research center’s chimps. But where to put such a facility? As it happened, a former gorilla sanctuary in Georgia, the Dewar Wildlife Trust had just sent back its last two gorillas to the Atlanta Zoo, and donated the buildings of the sanctuary to Project Chimps soon afterwards, with Project Chimps buying the facility’s 100 acres of land (and additional parcels on the side) to provide a new home for the large influx of captive chimpanzees that they expected to need homes as the federal legislation went through.

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