Dr. Carole Noon
This video captures the spirit of Save the Chimps co-founder, the late, Dr. Carole Noon.
Dr. Carole Noon, co-founder of Save the Chimps, was born Carole Jean Cooney in Portland, Oregon on July 13, 1949. According to her sisters, Lee Asbeck and Kay Shelton, Carole demonstrated compassion for animals—even fictional ones—at an early age. “The Disney animated film Lady and the Tramp was our first tip-off. Tramp, a lovable homeless mutt, was whisked off to the pound. Carole cried inconsolably,” remember Lee and Kay. In one of her first attempts at animal rescue, a young Carole attempted to nurse a sick mole back to health. Sadly, the mole passed away despite her efforts, but the stage had been set for her life’s work.
Carole spent part of her early childhood on an island in the South Pacific, where her father, William, had moved the family for a business venture. Her parents later divorced, and her mother, Dorothy, moved Carole and her sisters to Honolulu, Hawaii and later to Cleveland, Ohio. Carole met and married Michael Noon, and they established a business together. After ten years, the marriage ended, and Carole began looking for a new path in life. She traveled extensively: to the Congo with her sister, and across the United States with her beloved dog, Zeke.
Carole enrolled in Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and attended a lecture by the world’s foremost chimpanzee expert, Dr. Jane Goodall. She knew then what her life’s goal was: to work with and help these remarkable beings who, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that they are so like us, had been exploited and harmed by humans both in the wild and in captivity. She sought the counsel of Dr. Goodall as well as primatologist Dr. Geza Teleki, and they encouraged her to continue her studies. She acquired a Bachelor’s from FAU, a Master’s degree from University of Florida (UF), and began her doctoral studies in biological anthropology at UF under Dr. Linda Wolfe. She gained experience with chimps wherever she could, primarily by observing them in zoos. Then Dr. Teleki introduced Carole to David and Sheila Siddle of Zambia, who were running a sanctuary for chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade in Africa. Carole became like a daughter to the Siddles. She lived and worked at the sanctuary, called Chimfunshi, completing her dissertation on the re-socialization of chimpanzees. She completed her PhD and became Dr. Carole Noon in 1996.
Dr. Noon co-founded Save the Chimps in 1997, in response to the US Air Force’s announcement that it was divesting itself of all of its chimpanzees, and placing them up for bid. More than 140 veterans or descendants of chimpanzees used in the early days of space research had the opportunity for retirement, and Dr. Noon intended to give it to them. However, the Air Force rejected her bid to retire the chimpanzees, and sent most of them to The Coulston Foundation (TCF), a biomedical research lab with a history of violating the Animal Welfare Act. Dr. Noon sued the Air Force on the chimps’ behalf, and eventually settled out of court for custody of 21 chimps. In 2001, the chimps arrived at the sanctuary she built for them on 150 acres in Fort Pierce, Florida with the assistance of the Arcus Foundation. Her dream had been realized, but her life’s work had really only just begun.
In 2002, TCF went bankrupt, and with a special grant from the Arcus Foundation, Dr. Noon and Save the Chimps purchased the lab in Alamogordo, New Mexico and rescued 266 chimpanzees and 61 monkeys, overnight becoming the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary. Carole worked tirelessly to improve their conditions, train staff to care for the chimps with compassion, raise funds for their care, oversee expansion of the sanctuary in Florida, and introduce the chimpanzees into families prior to their relocation to Florida.
Dr. Carole Noon was an inspiring woman with an amazing drive, passion, and intellect. She had a wonderful sense of humor, and was always quick with a witty comment. She had a powerful, no-nonsense aura about her, but she would also melt when around dogs, children, and of course her beloved chimps. She was incredibly charismatic and motivated others to share her love and devotion to chimpanzees.
Dr. Carole Noon passed away early on May 2, 2009, of pancreatic cancer. She was in her home at Save the Chimps, within sight and sound of the chimpanzee islands, and in the company of her sisters. The sounds of the chimpanzees starting their day reverberated through the air as she slipped away. Dr. Carole Noon lives on in our hearts, and in the hearts of the chimpanzees she loved so dearly.