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February 25, 2011

'Humane Teen of the Year' Is Changing the Lives of Chimpanzees

Louisiana high school senior Daniel McFarland raises awareness about the plight of chimps in labs

  • Humane Teen of the Year Daniel McFarland's volunteer experiences at the Chimp Haven sanctuary have inspired him to become an advocate for chimpanzees. Jim Hudelson/The Times.

For Daniel McFarland, watching a news story about the chimpanzee sanctuary in his hometown of Keithville, Louisiana, was an eye-opening experience.

Daniel, then 14 years old, learned that Chimp Haven is a permanent home for chimpanzees who have been retired from medical research or the entertainment industry, or who are no longer wanted as pets. He also learned that chimpanzees are humankind's closest genetic relative.

Before long, Daniel was a regular volunteer at Chimp Haven, and he soon realized he could do even more to help the sanctuary and chimpanzees. He developed a program and found creative ways to spread awareness about the needs of Chimp Haven.

His efforts have included creating “Chimp Change” donation buckets to raise money for Chimp Haven, developing a “Chimp Challenge” activity booklet for elementary students, encouraging legislators to support the Great Ape Protection Act, and organizing a supply drive with more than 50 4-H clubs to collect items for the sanctuary.

“Through hard work and persistence, my project continues to help maintain the welfare of chimps,” says Daniel, now 18. “Every time I visit, it is such a great feeling to witness the chimpanzees happy and content in their natural environment.”

Protecting Great Apes 

Daniel tells us about one special chimp named Henry: "I will never forget when he came to the facility two years ago. He had lived in a small cage in a dark garage for 15 years. He lived on only cola, candy, and cigarettes. All of his teeth had fallen out and his gums were bleeding. Now, when you see him, he is a happy, active, and very healthy chimpanzee. He loves for you to interact with him."

Henry and other chimpanzees like him provide all the motivation Daniel needs to continue his work. He determinedly writes to his federal lawmakers in Congress to encourage them to support the Great Ape Protection Act.

If passed, the law would phase out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research, retire all federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries, and permanently end the breeding of federally owned chimpanzees. The 111th Congress ended with the strong bipartisan support of over 160 co-sponsors. "It will be reintroduced in the 112th Congress in 2011," says Daniel. "There is still a lot of work to be done to get this bill passed."

Changing Attitudes

Daniel has had the pleasure of speaking to hundreds of visitors who come to the sanctuary. He also talks to children about the importance of ensuring the health and welfare of chimpanzees.

“Throughout the years, I have witnessed attitudes changing when people learn that hundreds of these chimpanzees are not even used for research but are just locked up in research labs until they die,” Daniel tells us.

His plans for the future include expanding his work with local farmers who donate produce for the sanctuary and setting up food donation bins at the local grocery stores.

“I have learned that one person can make a difference," says Daniel. "Through my programs, I can change the outlook of how my community and my peers value the survival of the chimpanzees."

For his work to protect and advocate for chimpanzees, Daniel received our 2011 Humane Teen of the Year Award.

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