History

They are our cousins – like us in so many ways, but they’ve been cruelly exploited as biomedical research subjects, coerced as entertainers, and kept inappropriately as pets. Many chimps were also used to test the effects of space travel in the early days of the NASA space program.

The late Dr. Carole Noon’s wish to provide a sanctuary for retired Air Force chimps used in the space program marked the beginning of Save the Chimps (STC) in 1997. The Air Force initially rejected Save the Chimps’ bid to retire the chimps, but after a lawsuit, awarded custody of 21 Air Force chimps to STC. Jon Stryker of the Arcus Foundation shared Dr. Noon’s vision for the chimps, and enabled STC to purchase 150 acres of land in Fort Pierce, Florida, and bring to life the dream of a permanent sanctuary where chimpanzees rescued from laboratories, entertainment and the pet trade could live out their lives in peace.

The first chimp residents arrived in 2001. Then, in 2002, STC acquired 266 chimpanzees, many living alone in concrete cells at the Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo, New Mexico, a biomedical research laboratory with the worst record of any lab in the history of the Animal Welfare Act.

Save the Chimps purchased the infamous lab, renovated it and began the long and complex process of creating compatible social groups and transporting the chimpanzees to their new home in Florida through the Great Chimpanzee Migration. Over 250 retired chimpanzees now live in large family groups on 12 separate three-acre islands receiving 3 fresh meals daily, first-rate medical care, and a variety of activities in an enriched environment.

The Incredible Story of the World’s Largest Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Narrated by Advisory Council Member, Academy Award Winner, and chimpanzee advocate Anjelica Huston.

Chimps endured electric shock, extreme G-forces, and challenging physical conditions.

Chimpanzees were used in the U.S. space program for testing equipment and survivability starting in the late 1950s. For the next four decades, they and their descendants became biomedical research test subjects, used for space-related experimentation, disease research, toxicology experiments, experimental surgeries, and breeding.

Save the Chimps was founded to provide a home for chimpanzees once used by the U.S. Air Force for research purposes. When you symbolically adopt Garfield and Jennifer, both former Air Force chimps, your donation will provide a full week of complete care for them.

75% of chimps in captivity in the U.S. have or continue to be living in biomedical research laboratories

Research on chimpanzees began in the 1920’s and expanded to a peak in the 1990’s with as many as 1,500 chimpanzees living in at least 11 different private or government labs in the U.S. There has been modest decline to about 850 as a number of them have been transferred to sanctuaries. Read more on chimpanzees in laboratories. View a timeline of the retirement of chimps in research.

View photos of what life was like inside the Coulston Foundation. 

You can symbolically adopt Bobby, Elway, Jaybee, Pumpkin, Rufus, or Scarlett – all chimps used in research – to support their care at Save the Chimps.

Make a symbolic adoption of Terry who was saved from the entertainment industry.

It seems every time you turn on the TV these days, there’s a chimpanzee on the screen – not a wild chimpanzee enjoying life in the forest, but a captive chimpanzee dressed up for a commercial, or playing roles on television shows. Then you set foot in your local store and see pictures of “smiling” chimps on birthday cards and calendars. To most people, the chimpanzees look happy. It all seems like harmless fun. What most people don’t know is that chimpanzees used in entertainment suffer for their trade.

Chimpanzees used in entertainment are all young children, because an adult could easily injure or kill any human actors or trainers they work with. Chimpanzees become physically impossible to control by the age of eight, so the chimps you see on TV or posing for photos are children younger than eight years old. That’s a pretty short career for a chimpanzee who will live to be fifty.

Unfortunately, those eight years in entertainment aren’t as fun as they might seem. If you think human child stars have it rough in Hollywood, with all of the pressures and trappings of fame, chimp stars have it much, much worse. First, the chimpanzees are taken from their mothers at birth, just like chimpanzees who are sold as pets. They are then taught unnatural behaviors and tricks by force until they become too dangerous to work with anymore. Chimpanzees in Hollywood are usually portrayed as buffoons, objects to be mocked and laughed at, when in fact they are intelligent, feeling beings just like us. When their careers are over, they end up in poor conditions in roadside zoos, or are used as breeders to continue the cycle, spending the rest of their lives in a cage. A lucky few end up in sanctuaries, but this is no justification for all that they have endured for our amusement.

There are things you can do to help chimpanzees in entertainment? Don’t watch movies or TV shows using chimp actors, and don’t buy any product that is advertised using chimps. Pick the birthday card with the funny cartoon instead of the one with the grinning chimp. Avoid circuses or shows at amusement parks that use chimps. Write to directors, actors, and companies that use chimps and tell them you won’t watch their movie or buy their product. There are very few trainers in Hollywood left who use chimpanzees. If nobody wants to see chimpanzees in movies and advertising, then there won’t be any reason for them to stay in business.

You can make a symbolic adoption of April – a former pet who now lives safely at Save the Chimps.

Save the Chimps often gets asked how someone might obtain a baby chimpanzee of their own as a pet. Partly due to the use of baby chimpanzees in entertainment, some people think that having a chimpanzee as a pet would be a wonderful idea, and most people interested in having a chimp genuinely care about chimps. But chimpanzees do not make good pets. Keeping a chimpanzee as a pet is not a rewarding experience for the chimp or the people. It is a journey that begins with the separation of the baby from its mother and often ends with the chimp in solitary confinement for over 40 years.

There is no doubt that chimpanzee babies are adorable, and we can understand why people want them as pets. But buying a chimp comes at a price way beyond the $25,000 to $50,000 you’ll need to purchase a chimp. Babies sold in the pet trade are taken from their mothers at birth, which can be traumatic for the mother and the baby. Chimpanzee babies soon grow out of their adorable stage and become dangerous and destructive.

They have minds of their own, and if they want to tip over the refrigerator and eat all of its contents, or just run around tearing down curtains, they will. As the chimpanzee who was once a helpless baby grows into adulthood, they will become many times stronger than you are, able to cause serious injury or death. As a result, your chimp will end up spending their life alone in a cage, a life that can last fifty years, probably beyond your own lifetime.

Many people find they can’t manage to take care of an adult chimpanzee, but the choices for these unwanted pets are limited. If they are lucky, a sanctuary will be able to take them, but most sanctuaries are full and have waiting lists. More often they end up in poor conditions in roadside zoos or at breeding facilities. There are sometimes tragic endings, in which an escaped pet chimp is shot to death in order to protect the public. No matter where they end up, a pet chimp who is suddenly asked to leave their life with their human family is often confused and unhappy. It is heartbreaking to watch former pet chimps struggle to figure out where they fit in this world.

Chimpanzees are like us in all the ways that count. If you can imagine how you would feel being taken from your mother, raised by another species, and then suddenly shut away in a cage, then you can imagine how a chimpanzee feels. Mothers love their children, babies depend on their mothers, and they need to live their lives with other chimpanzees, just as we need to live ours with our own human families and friends. Please do not obtain a baby chimpanzee as a pet.