Nearly 2,000 chimpanzees live in the United States – approximately 850 are in research laboratories, 250 are in zoos, 600 in sanctuaries, and 250 in private hands including the entertainment industry, roadside zoos and the pet trade.
The Wildlife Waystation is home to 39 chimpanzees. A few came from private owners; most came from research laboratories.
For us, it began in 1995 after ABC’s 20/20 aired a piece about chimpanzees in labs. Booee, born at NIH (National Institute of Health) in 1967, was taken from his mother and cared for by a resident doctor after some experimental surgery because he had seizures. When he became too big to live in a home environment, Booee was sent to the Institute of Primate Studies in Oklahoma where he was taught American Sign Language. In 1982, funds ran out and Booee was sold to The Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates(LEMSIP) where he spent the next 16 years of his life confined to a small cage and became a “study” for Hepatitis C.
In preparing the TV piece, 20/20 asked the person who had taught Booee sign language to visit LEMSIP. The camera showed a despondent Booee, sitting in the back of a very small cage. Even though his former teacher had never visited Booee – Booee signed his name. In all these years Booee had not forgotten him! After public pleas poured in to “Free Booee”, Martine Colette was contacted by Dr. James Mahoney, D.V.M., Ph.D. LEMSIP’s veterinarian and acting director. Would the Waystation be willing to take Booee and eight more chimps? Without hesitation she agreed and these nine chimpanzees were released to the Wildlife Waystation in 1995.
In April 1996, Dr. Mahoney asked us to take an additional eight chimpanzees. Then in September, we received an urgent call with a plea to accept more chimpanzees. LEMSIP was closing!
Chimpanzees and other primates were scheduled to be transferred to Coulston, a toxicology laboratory in New Mexico, which despite ongoing egregious animal welfare violations, continued to receive millions of dollars in government grants.
Dr. Mahoney was desperately trying to save as many of these primates as he could before the transfer. Through his efforts, Dr. Mahoney managed to place 109 chimpanzees and 100 monkeys in sanctuaries around North America, including the Fauna Foundation, the Primate Rescue Center and the Wildlife Waystation.
This time we agreed to take 32 chimpanzees ranging in age from four months to 10 years old. Before each arrival, quarantine areas had to be constructed. The last time, we only had one week before their arrival!
Each time new chimps arrived, our hearts skipped a beat as we watched them experience “freedom” for the first time. Because even in quarantine areas, these chimpanzees were finally free of small cages, isolation, a variety of invasive and non-invasive tests – and they could put their feet on the ground – some for the first time in years or in their entire lives!
Life in a Research Laboratory
Many lab chimps are confined to 5 x 5 x 7 cages and, although extremely social, they cannot interact with other chimps. Some are subjected to intensive biomedical research which can include reproduction, blood transfusions, hepatitis B, C and HIV. In addition, some chimps are subjected to invasive laboratory experiments, and show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric disorders also seen in traumatized humans.
Today, we still have over 40 happy chimps at our sanctuary including two who were born here. Sha Sha and Magic were the result of failed vasectomies which have occurred in other primate facilities as well. For all our chimps, daily enrichment is critical to keep them physically and mentally stimulated. Activities include toys, interactive exercises and games, switching living quarters and building additional aerial walkways.
We hope you will read some of their stories and consider sponsoring one of these very personable and grateful chimps.