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Q: Can I visit?
A: The sanctuary is not currently open to the public. The building was designed with the needs of the chimpanzees as the foremost priority, and cannot currently accommodate a public visitation program. We do plan to have small prearranged educational visits available in the future where visitors can see the chimpanzees from a distance. For now, get to know the sanctuary and the chimpanzees through our blog.
Q: Is the sanctuary part of CWU and/or the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute?
A: No. The Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees were released from biomedical research in June 2008. We are not affiliated with nor supported by Central Washington University. However, our staff and several volunteers have degrees from Central and have worked with the chimpanzees there.
Q: Will you be getting more chimpanzees?
A: Probably not in the near future. The current building was designed for a small group. It can be challenging to integrate adult chimpanzees with one another because they are very territorial, and we do not have the room for separate living quarters for multiple groups. It might be possible in the future, particularly when we have the funds to expand.
Q: Have you expanded the facility and what are your plans for expanding in the future?
A: On September 20, 2011, the chimpanzees were released onto a two-acre open-air habitat. The habitat, called Young's Hill after the benefactors who donated the initial funds for the expansion, is the largest area some of the chimpanzees have ever experienced and the first time they've felt grass under their feet and had an unobscured view of the sky above. The habitat is surrounded by two very tall electric fences. This containment method is significantly less expensive than other habitats for great apes such as steel enclosures or islands surrounded by moats. The Young's Hill opening was a monumental day for everyone at the sanctuary and we hope it will pave the way for future large, safe, and less expensive enclosures for chimpanzees in other sanctuaries. View the Young's Hill FAQs.
We consider CSNW a constant work in progress and are always looking to improve the lives of the chimpanzees. Future projects include an on-site clinic and an area for introducing new chimpanzees.
Q: Do you get to touch the chimps?
A: There are very strict rules about contact between caregivers and the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are very strong and potentially dangerous. Many people who work with chimpanzees at other facilities have had fingers bitten off and worse. Only a few people have been trained to be caregivers. Even the caregivers never go into the same space as the chimpanzees. When we clean enclosures, the chimps are shifted to another area. Caregivers never put their fingers through the fencing. The chimps can put their backs against the fencing and the caregivers "knuckle-rub" – like a little massage. The chimpanzees can also put their fingers through the fencing to touch the back of a caregiver’s wrist or bottom of a shoe. Most often, caregivers interact with the chimps without touching – playing chase and tug-of-war, or pass-the-troll with Foxie. The relationship that the chimpanzees have with each other includes a lot of physical contact and they do not need additional contact from humans.
Q: What do you think about using chimps in biomedical research? Isn’t it okay if it helps people and the chimps are retired later?
A: Knowing what we know about how chimpanzees experience the world, we believe it is wrong to use them in invasive biomedical testing. There is a compelling case for ending the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. The United States and Gabon are the only countries left in the world still using chimpanzees in the biomedical industry. A bill (H.R. 1513/S. 810, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act) was introduced in Congress in 2009 that would follow suit with the rest of the world, making it illegal to experiment on great apes within the U.S. and mandating the retirement of chimpanzees currently owned by the federal government. Recently, the Environment and Public Works Committee of the Senate favorably approved the bill. The bill has not passed with a full Senate vote yet - that's the next step.
Chimpanzees are very intelligent, have long memories, and suffer from stress, confinement, and lack of mental stimulation. Further, the widespread use of chimpanzees in research is of questionable value. There is evidence that shows using chimpanzees has not taught us much about human disease or treatment. Even though they are our closest living genetic relatives, there are molecular differences between chimpanzees and humans. We have a different evolutionary history, which has created differing immunities and potential reactions to drugs and disease. For example, chimpanzees can be infected with HIV but very rarely show symptoms of AIDS. For more on this topic, visit the Project R & R website.
Q: What about chimps in entertainment? Aren’t they well cared for?
A: The simple answer is "no." Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest's Executive Director, Sarah Baeckler, went undercover at a training compound in Hollywood and witnessed young chimps being beaten as a routine part of their training. In order to get chimpanzees to perform, their trainers must dominate them. Even young chimpanzees are very strong, and they are generally discarded by the entertainment industry by the time they are six or seven years old because they become too difficult to control. They often go to roadside zoos where they live for the rest of their lives (30 years or more) in deplorable conditions. The trainer then gets new chimpanzee babies, continuing the cycle. Both Jamie and Burrito, and possibly Jody, were used by trainers to entertain humans before they were sold into research. Jamie spent the first nine years of her life living with a trainer. She grew up in a human home and probably saw herself as a human. Aside from the physical abuse that she likely suffered, the emotional abuse and confusion and the taking away of the "chimpanzeeness" of chimpanzees used for entertainment is tragic and can cause them to have difficulty integrating into groups of chimpanzees later in life.
Q: How can I learn more about the sanctuary?
A: Peruse the pages of the website and feel free to contact us with your questions: info@ChimpsNW.org
Q: What do the chimps do at the sanctuary?
A: The biggest challenge in caring for captive chimpanzees is keeping them engaged and challenged. We work hard to provide them with an environment that stimulates their minds and bodies. A big focus of the chimpanzees’ day is on food because, like humans, they like to eat! Plus, meals provide a routine for the day. Routines are an important part of providing a secure environment for captive chimpanzees – they know what to expect and can choose to take part in the routine or not. They have three meals a day just like most humans. We provide a lot of variety of food and try to make life exciting, so we frequently throw parties with wrapped gifts and food forages. The chimpanzees also spend a lot of time grooming one another. Grooming can be about cleaning each other, but usually it's more about socializing and showing friendship and affection. The chimps also play a lot – they play by themselves with toys, clothes, paper, soapy water, you name it! And they play with each other – they wrestle, play chase, and tickle each other.
Q: What foods do they like?
A: The focus of their diet is on fresh fruits and vegetables as well as nuts. Each chimpanzee has individual preferences. Foxie, for example, doesn't like most vegetables (though she keeps surprising us and has recently started eating lettuce). Jamie loves pears, Burrito and Jody love just about all food, Annie likes green onions, Missy enjoys frozen bananas, and Negra loves peanuts. We also give the chimps prepared meals on occasion such as spaghetti, oatmeal, roasted vegetables, sandwiches, and even quinoa. We also give the chimpanzees primate chow, which is a commercially produced, nutritionally complete dry biscuit. Primate chow is what the chimpanzees were given during their years in the laboratory, although the kind we serve is probably not the same. Our intention was to wean them off of the primate chow when they got to the sanctuary, but some of the chimps (especially Burrito and Foxie) still really enjoy it, so we serve it at the end of breakfast and lunch.
Q: How long do they live?
A: A recent study has shown that the median lifespan for chimpanzees both in captivity and the wild lies in the early 30s (this includes infant mortality), however, many chimpanzees live into their 40s and some beyond.
Q: How old are they?
A: The chimpanzees at CSNW are all well into adulthood. Burrito is the youngest and was born in 1983. Negra is the oldest and she was captured in Africa as an infant sometime between 1968 and 1973.
Q: Will they be having any babies?
A: No. Burrito, the only male at CSNW, has been vasectomized.
Responsible sanctuaries do not allow intentional breeding. While emotionally appealing, the possible value in allowing captive chimpanzees to experience raising their young is far outweighed by the fact that this would perpetuate the cycle of captivity. Even in the best possible facility, it is impossible to mimic what life is like for chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Sanctuaries devote their limited resources to providing captive chimpanzees with the best possible life they can and to rescuing chimpanzees in need. Producing babies whose fate is a lifetime of confinement in captivity and who require continued financial support goes against the mission of a rescue organization. To learn more about the lives of chimpanzees in the wild, visit Chimpanzee Central on the Jane Goodall Institute website.
Q: Where did they come from?
A: The chimpanzees at CSNW came from the Buckshire Corporation, a company in Pennsylvania that leases animals for biomedical research and other purposes. At Buckshire, the chimpanzees lived for years in a series of cages in a windowless basement. Throughout their lives, most of the chimpanzees were shuffled between laboratories in New Mexico, New York, and Pennsylvania, often living alone in cages no bigger than a public bathroom stall.
Q: What kinds of tests were done on them in biomedical research?
A: The records that we have indicate that all of the chimpanzees were used in hepatitis vaccine testing, which would involve repeated liver biopsies (punch or wedge) to determine how the vaccine was affecting the liver. We don’t have their full medical histories – a lot of information was taken out of their files for proprietary reasons, so they were likely used in other studies that we know nothing about. All of the female chimpanzees except for Jamie were also bred while in biomedical research. Their babies were taken from them to also be used as biomedical test subjects.
Q: Why don’t you work on getting them released into the wild?
A: There are many reasons why they cannot be released into the wild, but perhaps the most significant is that chimpanzees rely heavily on cultural knowledge for survival in the wild. Having been raised in captivity, the chimpanzees at CSNW lack the most basic skills for survival such as finding and procuring food, and protecting themselves from the dangers of their environment.
Q: Do the chimps understand when you talk to them?
A: Studies have shown that chimpanzees raised in human environments can understand spoken language, at least to some extent. We will often make complex spoken requests of the chimps, such as "Jody, can you get the blanket out of the door?" and, when they are feeling cooperative, they comply.
Q: Do they know sign language?
A: The chimpanzees at CSNW do not know sign language. We think that Jamie was taught a few signs at some point in her life, either in the lab or more likely when she lived with the trainer, but she does not sign very often.
Q: Why do they wear clothes?
A: All of the chimpanzees at CSNW were raised in a human environment, either in the lab, with a trainer, or as a pet in someone’s home. As a result, they sometimes do things that we consider "human," such as wear clothes. We would never force the chimps to wear clothes. Instead, we offer clothing as part of their daily enrichment (the blankets, toys, puzzles, etc. that we give them to keep them occupied and entertained). They may choose to wear the clothes, ignore them, or use them for some other purpose, like playing tug-of-war. In contrast to the chimpanzees used in entertainment who do not have a choice about what they wear (and are often forced and duct-taped into their outfits), the CSNW chimpanzees are free to make these decisions for themselves. In a better world, all chimpanzees would grow up in their own culture in the wild where they belong.
Q: Can I volunteer?
A: Yes! There are three levels of chimp house volunteers, based on the amount of time you can commit and your experience. Entry-level (Level One) volunteers help with daily tasks such as laundry, washing produce, preparing meals for the chimpanzees, and preparing enrichment (toys and food forages).
We also accept volunteers to help with fundraising events. And we'd love to talk to you if you have professional experience that you feel would help the sanctuary. See the volunteer page for more information.
Q: What kinds of stuff can I donate?
A: The chimpanzees enjoy a variety of toys as well as sheets and blankets and many food items, but storage is an issue and there are dietary restrictions as well as certain types of toys that we don’t give the chimps. The best thing to do is to check the wish list or email J.B. Mulcahy, Director of Operations: jb@ChimpsNW.org
Q: What’s the best way to help?
A: The sanctuary relies on donations, so the most helpful gift you can give is a cash donation. We also accept a lot of in-kind donations of supplies and labor. Check out the wish list online and pick up a volunteer application (see above for details).