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July 27, 2011

Hundreds of Chimpanzees Like Nim Still Suffer

Not enough has changed since Nim's days in the lab

  • Nim was a social, intelligent animal, and like others of his kind he suffered terribly in a laboratory. Mike Warms

A new HBO documentary film entitled "Project Nim" tells the story of a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky. The film follows his life as the subject of a 1970s language experiment for which he was raised by humans and taught American Sign Language, to his time in a research laboratory and, finally, his rescue and sanctuary at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch for nearly two decades until his death in 2000.

To learn more about Nim's rescue from a laboratory and life at Black Beauty Ranch, read this chapter [PDF] from Cleveland Amory's book Ranch of Dreams.

The story of Nim's life is heartbreaking. He was torn away from his mother while just days old and was at the mercy of humans who did not always have his best interests at heart.

A complex animal

His story also highlights the incredible intelligence of chimpanzees and their intense emotional capacity and needs. It also shines a light on many issues surrounding the interactions between our two species, including the controversy over the continued use of chimpanzees in invasive experimentation.

Nim spent a short time in a research laboratory before Cleveland Amory rescued him and brought him to Black Beauty Ranch in the early 1980s. People will be shocked to learn that the laboratory footage in "Project Nim," taken more than 20 years ago, is strikingly similar to footage from The HSUS's 2009 undercover investigation at the largest chimpanzee laboratory in the world. We documented chimpanzees housed alone in barren cages for months at a time—cages the same small size that they were back then.

Too little has changed.

While it's certainly compelling, Nim's story is one of hundreds. And, today, there are approximately 1,000 chimpanzees still languishing in six laboratories throughout the U.S.—some who have been there for more than 50 years—all waiting for their chance at sanctuary.

Fortunately, as our understanding of chimpanzees' complex needs have increased over time, more and more chimp sanctuaries have been established and have developed special expertise in meeting the needs of these highly intelligent and social creatures.

Retirement and recovery

Sanctuaries, however, still face challenges in terms of caring for chimpanzees who, due to human actions, have suffered physically and psychologically for long periods of time. Recent studies suggest that some chimpanzees who have been used in invasive experiments exhibit symptoms similar to those experienced by humans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fortunately, sanctuaries play the unique role of being able to provide chimpanzees with peace, enrichment, and security during their final years.

Chimpanzees deserve better than life in the lab, and The HSUS is committed to ending their use in invasive research and retiring them to appropriate sanctuaries. Learn more about our campaign and how you can help.

To learn more about the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and its current chimpanzee residents Kitty, Lulu, and Midge, also rescued from laboratories, visit http://blackbeautyranch.org/.

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