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Save the Chimps featured in Vanity Fair, Italy

In 2012, Cheetah, graced the pages of Vanity Fair and now Save the Chimps is featured in Vanity Fair, Italia.  We would like to thank Vanity Fair, Italia for introducing Save the Chimps to a new audience with their article “Torturereste vostro fratello?” which translates to “Would you torture your brother?” 

Grazie to Vanity Fair Italy for caring about our chimps in America. Click here to view the article.

A big pant-hoot thank you to our supporter Gaia Light for translating the article into English! (below)


Would You Ever Torture Your Brother?

Their fault: to have DNA practically identical to ours. Their sentence: condemned to useless operations, biopsies and risky space travel. Their salvation: an oasis in Florida where 100s of chimpanzees live.

If you think that all of this is useless, then look at Bobby’s photo.

Bobby never spent a few minutes with his mother Lola. When he was born on 1/31/1983, they immediately separated him from his mother and he never saw her again. The testing began shortly after his 1st birthday. By the time he was 19, he had undergone more than 250 operations and many biopsies to his liver and muscles.

When he was not under the knife, in order to deal with his fear, he used to bite his arms to the point where he drew blood. Technically, Bobby was never ill. He is only a chimpanzee who has lived more than half his life at the Coulston Foundation, a biomedical research institution in Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert. Sadly known in the US for the terrible conditions of the animals kept in their labs.

In 2002, when the Coulston filed for bankruptcy, Bobby and 265 other chimps were freed by Save the Chimps, a non-profit organization that manages the largest sanctuary in the world for this species. More than 12000 square feet under the Florida sun in Fort Pierce.

Bobby was found alone in the most squalid building of all, named “The Dungeon”. Almost catatonic and emaciated, with signs of self-mutilation. He used to sleep sitting upright with his face facing the wall, in order not to see the doors of his cage opening and what would come through once they were open.

It took ten years for him to stop his self-mutilation and his open wounds to become scars. Those and others like him showed the same type of wounds similar to post traumatic stress syndrome. The same as what is found in human beings.

Chimps are the closest species to humans; we share almost 99% of the same DNA. Like us they feel fear, sadness, anxiety, joy. Like us, they hug, kiss, and tickle each other. They can learn sign language and they are able to simple calculations. They can also become ill from the same illnesses that affect humans. These similarities, since the 1920s, have made them ideal candidates for experimentation.

From Hollywood to Zoos

The United States is the only country that still uses chimpanzees in research. “The politics are undergoing a change and now for the first time, there is real hope,” says Jen Feuerstein. She is the Sanctuary director, that in the time we are speaking is home to 257 chimpanzees. “There are still 850 in laboratories. The majority of them are not being actively used in tests. They are simply kept in custody in the eventuality that they could be used again. 360 of them are property of the government; the others are in private hands. The government wants to retire 310, but the process is very slow.”

The first step: 110 were freed in July.

Feuerstein had worked for five (5) years in a research laboratory before coming to Save the Chimps. Because of that job, she tells me, her mindset has changed. “I can understand why specifically chimpanzees were chosen for experiments. But their suffering, the way they were captured in Africa, for that we are not justified. Now we know much more about their needs, about their emotions and their intelligence and this is why things have changed all over the world. I wonder if we can really say that all the experiments were actually necessary. If the chimps hadn’t existed, would we have still be able to develop the vaccine for Hepatitis B? I think yes. The same can be said for the entertainment industry that exploits them when they are still babies and then after they grow and become too difficult to control, they are abandoned in private zoos or left to live in small cages, like April that was rescued in 2002. There was a chimp in the films “The Wolf of Wall Street” but “Planet of the Apes: Revolution” (recently released in movie theaters) has shown that it is not necessary to use real chimpanzees in movies: virtual animation can be enough.”

It’s true, the chimps have contributed in past to the discovery not only of vaccines for Hepatitis B, but for Poliomielite and help in the discovery of Hepatitis C. They were used in the first crash test in experiments for alcohol abuse and for oral contraceptives. But, they not always are the most adequate subjects as was once believed. In 20 years of trials for example, they were found as not adequate in the research for AIDS: only a couple of them infected with HIV have actually developed the disease, and in a mutated form, useless for human studies.

This is one of the reasons why scientists with the progression of technology are evaluating the alternatives to the use of animals, based on the use of computer models and studies of isolated cells. Not by chance, even several American pharmaceutical companies have given up on testing on chimpanzees.

Certainly, one use the chimpanzees no longer have to fear: in 1997 the US Air Force decided to stop all experiments on chimpanzees started in the 1950s. Those chimpanzees that survived experiments were finally given to Save the Chimps.

Guinea Pig from Space

There is a video that is impossible for me to remove from my mind. A little bit grainy and black and white. It shows a chimp that is about 4 or 5 years of age that has the dimensions and trust of a human child of the same age; he is wearing a white space suit and he caresses the face of the man who is strapping him into a space capsule. He is unaware of the fact that he is about to become HAM, the 1st chimpanzee sent to space. It was January 31, 1961.

From that 16 minute 30 second trip, HAM came back alive, only a little shook up. Opening the way for the first human astronaut. After that, he was immediately retired in several zoos until his death.

Other chimpanzees in the space program were not as fortunate. Chimps that left suffering in the labs were not as fortunate. Amy is a veteran of the US Air Force, but you will not find her name in any official celebration. She was born on February 3, 1983 at Holloman Air force Base, the same where almost 20 years before, HAM was trained and in the 1950s 60 chimpanzees captured in Africa were brought.

Two hours after being born, Amy was separated from her mother Clair – used as a breeder – and was moved to the nursery. When she was 1 year of age, she was sent to Rockville in Maryland and used to test the vaccine for Hepatitis B. From March 29 1984 through June 3 1987, once a week, she has been strapped to a hospital bed while somebody was taking her blood and injecting her with needles in her liver for biopsies.

There is no documentation I am told at Save the Chimps, that shows she was anesthetized for these operations or given any medicine to alleviate the pain. At age 3 Amy, went back to Holloman where they unsuccessfully attempted to have her become a breeder. She never had any babies.

At the Sanctuary in Fort Pierce, where she still prefers the companionship of her ex-military friends, they tell me that it is easy to recognize her, mostly when she is outside, because she walks on palms and not on her knuckles like others of her species. Almost as if she doesn’t want to lose, not even, for one second, contact with the ground that she became familiar with in 2001: before then, she had only touched asphalt and cement.

Because the chimpanzees captured in Africa remember their freedom. Feuerstein explains that when chimpanzees raised in captivity are freed, they set foot on the grass very slowly, like a human testing the water before going into a pool. “What is it?” they ask themselves “will I sink (like a boat)?” Then they discover they can float. This discovery fulfills them with joy.