When a snake bit Lolo, one of 62 chimpanzees Humane Society International cares for in Liberia, sanctuary director and veterinarian Richard Ssuna gave him antibiotics and pain medicine hidden in rice balls. Lolo lives on one of six mangrove islands where animals were retired from research starting in the early 2000s. When caregivers bring food by boat, they disembark and wade closer to shore. To protect both the animals’ and humans’ well-being, they don’t come into direct contact with the chimps.

Lolo eats a rice ball on the island he shares with other chimps.
Lolo eats a rice ball on the island he shares with other chimps. It’s a setting that lets him live in nature but also exposes him to dangers like snakes.

A new construction project underway at HSI’s Second Chance Chimpanzee Refuge will ensure caregivers can safely provide enhanced medical attention for chimps like Lolo by creating infrastructure to separate individual animals from island groups, sedate them and directly treat them. Off each island, HSI/Liberia is building multi-room treatment enclosures chimps can reach via runways from the shore. On the mainland, HSI/Liberia is constructing a veterinary clinic with six chimp bedrooms and an outdoor enclosure.

The new structures will allow the Second Chance team to more closely treat chimps for the many issues that can result from living in a natural environment, says Amanda Gray, program manager at Second Chance, and to isolate chimps when they are sick and injured, reducing stress during recovery.

[Chimps]are extremely strong, and they’re intelligent and curious. The architecture has to be really robust.

Architect Lea Anne Leatherwood

All the structures have been specially designed for chimps through a collaboration between the U.S. architecture firm Perkins & Will, which has experience at other chimp sanctuaries, and the Liberian architect Joel Harijgens. To safely hold the chimps, the buildings will have multiple layers of containment and smooth walls that don’t give the animals anything to grip and climb.

Without the antibiotics from HSI/Liberia, Lolo might have died. With the new buildings, caregivers can expand how they treat all the chimps when medical issues arise. With 50-year average lifespans, they have decades of life ahead of them.

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