The United States is one of only two countries still performing conducting experimentation on chimpanzees. The other is Gabon. The hundreds of chimps in research labs usually spend their lives in cramped cages or enduring painful tests, never feeling sunlight or grass beneath their feet. Save The Chimps is home to some of the lucky few who are no longer behind bars.
The Coulston Foundation’s research facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico lost funding and shut down in 2002 after three of their chimps were literally cooked alive in their cages when the temperature reached 140 degrees Farenheit, according to CNN. The lab had also been cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act numerous times. Save The Chimps stepped in to buy the facility with a $3.7 million grant, and what was once a the largest chimpanzee lab in the world became the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world. The chimps would stay there until the organization could get them ready to move to their new sanctuary home in Florida.
The chimps were first introduced to each other and socialized, as they had been isolated their entire lives. “It was six months of cutting doors into six-inch thick concrete walls so that chimps could actually see each other for the first time and meet each other for the first time…The ultimate goal was forming family groups of 20 to 25 chimpanzees. We did it by introducing one chimpanzee at a time, so we’re talking over the past 10 years thousands of thousands of introductions,” said Save The Chimps director Jennifer Feuerstein.
Slowly but surely, the chimps were relocated. “When a family was ready and an island was ready, then we would migrate a group to Florida. Eleven groups were formed and migrated over a period of six years. We started doing large scale migrations in 2005, 2006,” said Feuerstein. In December 2011, the last of the 200+ chimps had made it to Florida. The sanctuary in Fort Pierce, FL consists of 12 three-acre islands where the chimps roam freely as well as indoor hurricane-proof housing. It’s a much different place than the ones the Alamogordo chimps and their fellow rescued Save The Chimps residents came from.
Below, watch the CNN video of the last ten chimps feeling grass for the very first time. It’s powerful to see the lab these chimps started out in, and then see them experience freedom for the first time!
Photo Credit: Oculo / http://www.shutterstock.com