The World’s Largest Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Some of the living quarters for these chimps prior to being rescued were reminiscent of P.O.W. camps in Vietnam; some chimps never saw daylight for decades, while others lived in hung cages and never touched the ground. In these conditions, injuries were not tended to, like Shakey, whose hands were badly broken and were never set back right, so that he now lives with deformed hands.
Chimps, like humans, also encounter psychological problems in times of torture and solitude, and will self soothe. Sometimes, this self soothing is nothing more than rocking back and forth, but sometimes it is destructive and mutilating, like Bobby, who used to soothe himself by biting his arm. At his previous home, they wrapped his arm in duct tape to keep him from biting it. Now, he lives with scars and limited mobility of his arm. These chimps were at the Coulston Foundation in in New Mexico, which was cited numerous times and had funding withdrawn due to violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
The Coulston Foundation, founded in 1993, was a lab that conducted biomedical experiments and research on diseases, such as AIDS and Hepatitis C, on chimps. The facility was said at one point to have as many as 650 chimpanzees. When the Coulston Foundation closed in 2002 due to the treatment to their chimps, Save the Chimps received a grant for $3.7 million from the Arcus Foundation to buy the to buy the facility in New Mexico, and was donated the 266 chimpanzees that were left living in this torturous facility. The chimps were transported 10 at a time cross country from New Mexico to Florida—a process that took ten years.
As you can imagine, feeding 276 chimpanzees takes a considerable amount of bananas…
I grew up watching Lancelot Link as well as BJ and the Bear and always wanted a pet chimpanzee. They are portrayed on TV and movies as being incredibly funny and joyful; but, the truth is the chimps we know and see on TV and Hallmark cards are only ever kept for the first six to eight years of their life, after which they become too hard to manage and unpredictable. It is no extraordinary feat for an average-sized chimp to overpower the strongest of men. Chimpanzees have K9 teeth over an inch long too, and can bite and rip open a coconut without the use of any tools. Once mature, a chimp’s appearance is less appealing and they are liable to turn on trainers, so they are often disowned after the first few years. Yet chimps can live to be up to sixty years old.
The new Save the Chimps facility in Ft. Pierce is a total 150 acres with 11 three acre islands where the chimps are separated into families of twenty or more, just as they would in their natural habitat. On these islands, you can see two-story structures with tires and ropes for the chimps to climb, play, as well as sleep on. On each island there is also a building set for the exchange of food and water with stainless steel cages to separate and protect staff from the chimps. The buildings have sliding compartments where staff can get food to the chimps. In the mid-90s, I worked in a high security, Level 10 juvenile detention center, and the lockdown procedure for the chimps is similar to what I experienced working there.
As you can imagine, feeding 276 chimpanzees takes a considerable amount of bananas, 1300 per day in fact, but that is not all they eat. The chimps are fed a variety of fruits (apples, blueberries, and strawberries) and vegetables (cucumbers, celery, carrots, and potatoes) three times per day. Save the Chimps receives produce deliveries six times per week and double delivery on Saturdays. They typically shop for the best value among seasonal products. Special treats are also given on a weekly basis, including 900 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, 15lbs of honey, and 60 gallons of Gatorade. The food is not always just handed to them to eat without any effort though; after all, in nature they do have to work for their food. The staff has developed an enrichment program where they fill square, honey pieces of plastic with peanut butter so the chimps have to use sticks to pick out the food in the holes.
Like all rescue facilities, it is constant work to raise money to feed and care for the chimps. Being a farmer, I am instantly scanning the land looking for opportunity to grow some fruits and vegetables for the chimps to help offset food costs and so that the facility can become sustainable. Currently, the facility has a small garden and grape vines along fences. The main obstacle in growing food is a lack of farming skills and farm management needed to successfully grow produce. Most places I visit to help set up gardens typically think they don’t have the budget or staff to grow their own food, but the reality is food costs can be offset by food grown. Often, it is difficult to take the first step because it will take a few months before you will see any harvest for a return on investment. Therefore, in conjunction with this article I have arranged to plant a half an acre plot of banana trees and re-plant the existing garden with salad greens. The plots will be fully irrigated thanks to the donations from Home Depot. In addition to the plantings I will also give the staff a plan to plant successive crops so they can keep growing food and work toward sustainability.