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April 16, 2013

Haven Can't Wait, Page 5

With patience and training, Chimp Haven staffers help chimpanzees heal from emotional and physical trauma

All Animals magazine, May/June 2013

  • Jeff (left) and Jessika play with treat-filled toys at Chimp Haven.  Michelle Riley/The HSUS

(page 5 of 5)

Evolving times

One prime example of this resilience resides in a habitat with a wedge of forest bordered by a moat. Twenty years ago, Jo Jo lived alone in a suspended cage in the New York lab where Taylor worked as a caretaker. “After the day settled down, I would go in there and just spend some time with him. He just didn’t want you to leave. He just craved a relationship. … I could give him an enrichment item, and he’d just give it back. Whatever he had in his cage, it could be a piece of paper, it could be hardened feces—he craved that strong relationship so much, he’d give you anything he had.” Today, Jo Jo is a good-natured, people-oriented chimp who can often be seen grooming his best friend, Murphy.

While laboratory conditions have improved over the years, federal law still allows chimps to be kept alone in 5-by-5-by-7 foot cages. And many of Chimp Haven’s elders experienced lab life when there were no regulations governing their care and housing. For some, recovering from past trauma takes time. They may show abnormal rocking behaviors typical of infant chimps deprived of their mothers. Many new arrivals are afraid of grass. Others are wall-walkers, fearful of open spaces. A few display obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as picking at their skin.

Read a timeline of progress for chimpanzees »

With patience and gentle training, staff members help these animals gradually heal. They know, for example, that when Chaka starts screaming and hitting himself, as if experiencing a terrifying flashback, playing Native American Spirit Journey on the CD player will calm him down. “The first few notes start, and he just centers and focuses on the music,” says Mrsny. “The other chimps in his group come over and comfort him.”

No matter what chimps in labs have been through, Conlee says, “they do rehabilitate, and they deserve the chance to do so.”

Today, their chances have never been more hopeful. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a petition by The HSUS and other groups to list all chimpanzees as endangered, which could greatly limit their use in biomedical research, entertainment, and the pet trade. Three biomedical research facilities recently ended their use of chimps. Several pharmaceutical companies have agreed to no longer use chimpanzees. And early this year, an NIH working group recommended that most government-owned chimps be sent to sanctuary and that the remainder be kept in more ethologically appropriate settings.

Meanwhile, two other groups from New Iberia have followed Julius’ path to Chimp Haven, where the chimpanzee champions are rolling up their sleeves, preparing for an unprecedented number of new arrivals—and hoping that, as events unfold, all chimps in laboratories will soon be in sanctuary.

Help us send more chimpanzees to Chimp Haven »

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