About the Sanctuary
Q: Can I visit?
A: In the past, we have held small educational visits for existing donors of the sanctuary during the summer months, which require pre-registration. The sanctuary is not open to the public outside of the scheduled visits. You can learn more about the very limited visiting opportunities us on this page. The best way to get to know the sanctuary and the chimpanzees is through our blog, which is updated daily!
Q: Is the sanctuary part of CWU and/or the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute?
A: The Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute closed in 2013. In 2014, Central Washington University entered into a formal agreement with CSNW for an internship program. Now CWU students can be trained on chimpanzee care and husbandry procedures in a sanctuary setting. The students earn academic credits for their weekly shifts at CSNW. The Primate Behavior and Ecology program at CWU attracts undergraduate and graduate students from around the world. Co-Director J.B. is an adjunct professor in the department and we are honored to be a part of this unique academic program.
About the Chimps
Q: Will you be getting more chimpanzees?
A: Yes! We are in the midst of the Bring Them Home Expansion Campaign. We began to expand the facility in 2018-2019 and welcomed a group of three chimpanzees from the shuttered Wildlife Waystation in 2019. We are now working on further expansion to be able to provide more space for that group of three and for another group of six chimpanzees, also from Wildlife Waystation. Since 2015, we have also quadrupled the total land owned by the sanctuary, which will allow us to expand well into the future for other species of primates.
For more information, visit the Future of the Sanctuary page.
Q: Do you get to touch the chimps?
A: We have strict rules about contact between caregivers and the chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are very strong and potentially dangerous. Many people who work with chimpanzees at other facilities have had fingers bitten off and worse. Only a few people have been trained to be caregivers at CSNW. Even the caregivers never go into the same space as the chimpanzees. When we clean enclosures, the chimps are shifted to another area. Caregivers never put their fingers through the fencing. The chimps can put their backs against the fencing and the caregivers "knuckle-rub" – like a little massage. The chimpanzees can also put their fingers through the fencing to touch the back of a caregiver’s wrist or bottom of a shoe. Most often, caregivers interact with the chimps without touching – playing chase and tug-of-war, or pass-the-troll with Foxie. The relationship that the chimpanzees have with each other includes a lot of physical contact and they do not need close physical contact with humans. For more information and examples of safe contact see this blog post.
Q: What do you think about using chimps in biomedical research? Isn’t it okay if it helps people and the chimps are retired later?
A: From an ethical point of view, chimpanzees are very intelligent, have long memories, and suffer from stress, confinement, and lack of mental stimulation. From a scientific point of view, there is evidence that shows using chimpanzees has not taught us much about human disease or treatment. Even though they are our closest living genetic relatives, there are molecular differences between chimpanzees and humans. We have a different evolutionary history, which has created differing immunities and potential reactions to drugs and disease. For example, chimpanzees can be infected with HIV but very rarely show symptoms of AIDS.
Up until very recently, the United States was the last known industrialized nation in the world still using chimpanzees in the biomedical industry, but things have changed recently.
Legislation has been introduced, but never passed, to make biomedical research on chimpanzees illegal in the US. However, on December 15, 2011, the Institute of Medicine submitted a report called The Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the federal body that owns and supports the majority of chimpanzees used in research. The report found that most of the NIH research involving chimpanzees could be explored a different way. They recommended, among other things, that the NIH retire all but 50 chimpanzees to sanctuary (about 300 total). The 50 would not be bred and the decision to keep them would be revisited in five years.
In June 2013, the NIH accepted the recommendations, and NIH-owned chimpanzees are being retired to Chimp Haven, the only sanctuary with a contract with the federal government. In September 2015, the NIH announced they will also retire the 50 they were going to hold. There has been no official timeline set, and the majority of those chimpanzees are still waiting, but they are starting to be moved to the sanctuary.
In addition, in June 2015, the Fish and Wildlife Service ruled all chimpanzees as endangered. When chimpanzees were first found to be endangered in the wild, they were split-listed –chimpanzees in captivity were classified only as “threatened” and there was an exception that allowed them to be used in invasive biomedical research. Listing all chimpanzees as endangered does not directly outlaw their use in invasive research, but it does require a strict permitting process that requires that the conservation of the species is part of the research. No biomedical laboratory has applied for a permit.
There are approximately 250-280 privately owned chimpanzees (not funded by the NIH) that are also waiting for retirement. The largest colony is at the New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) in Louisiana. In May 2016, NIRC announced an agreement with a new sanctuary, Project Chimps, to retire all 220 chimpanzees at the center.
Q: What about chimps in entertainment? Aren’t they well cared for?
A: The simple answer is "no." Witnesses have testified to seeing young chimpanzees beaten as a routine part of their training. In order to get chimpanzees to perform, their trainers must dominate them. Even young chimpanzees are very strong, and they are generally discarded by the entertainment industry by the time they are six or seven years old because they become too difficult to control. They often go to roadside zoos where they live for the rest of their lives (30 years or more) in deplorable conditions. The trainer then gets new chimpanzee babies, continuing the cycle. Both Jamie and Burrito, and possibly Jody, were used by trainers to entertain humans before they were sold into research. Jamie spent the first nine years of her life living with a trainer. She grew up in a human home and probably saw herself as a human. Aside from the physical abuse that she likely suffered, the emotional abuse and confusion and the taking away of the "chimpanzeeness" of chimpanzees used for entertainment is tragic and can cause them to have difficulty integrating into groups of chimpanzees later in life. Fortunately, the use of chimpanzees in entertainment has decreased rapidly in the last decade.
Q: How can I learn more about the sanctuary?
A: Peruse the pages of this website and feel free to contact us with your questions: info@ChimpsNW.org
About the Chimps
Q: What do the chimps do at the sanctuary?
A: The biggest challenge in caring for captive chimpanzees is keeping them mentally engaged and challenged. We work hard to provide them with an environment that stimulates their minds and bodies. A big focus of the chimpanzees’ day is on food because, like humans, they like to eat! Plus, meals provide a routine for the day. Routines are an important part of providing a secure environment for captive chimpanzees – they know what to expect and can choose to take part in the routine or not. They have three meals a day just like most humans. We provide a lot of variety of food and try to make life exciting, so we frequently throw parties with wrapped gifts and food forages. The chimpanzees also spend a lot of time grooming one another. Grooming can be about cleaning each other, but usually it's more about socializing and showing friendship and affection. The chimps also play a lot – they play by themselves with toys, clothes, paper, soapy water, you name it! And they play with each other – they wrestle, play chase, and tickle each other. Take a look at the blog for photos and videos of all of the above activities; you might want start with this post or this look at a day in the life of the sanctuary from 2016.
Q: What foods do they like?
A: The focus of their diet is on fresh fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and seeds. Each chimpanzee has individual preferences. Foxie, for example, doesn't like most vegetables (though she keeps surprising us and has decided that some vegetables are okay). Jamie loves pears, Burrito and Jody love just about all food, Annie likes green onions, Missy favorite is tomatoes, Negra loves peanuts, Willy B, Mave, and Honey B can be picky but they all appreciate good fresh lettuce. On special occasions, we sometimes serve the chimps prepared meals such as spaghetti, oatmeal, roasted vegetables, sandwiches, and even quinoa. We also give the chimpanzees primate chow, which is a commercially produced, nutritionally complete dry biscuit. Primate chow is what the chimpanzees were given during their years in the laboratory, although the kind we serve is probably not the same. Our intention was to wean them off of the primate chow when they got to the sanctuary, but some of the chimps (especially Burrito and Foxie) still really enjoy it, so we serve it at the end of breakfast and lunch as a supplement to their fresh produce diet. Here's a post from 2018 that talks about the particular likes and dislikes of the original group of seven.
Q: How long do they live?
A: Studies have shown that the median lifespan for chimpanzees both in captivity and the wild lies in the early 30s (this includes infant mortality), however, many chimpanzees live into their 40s and some many years beyond that. The oldest chimpanzees known are in their late 60s to early 70s.
Q: How old are they?
A: The chimpanzees at CSNW are all well into adulthood. Willy B is the youngest and was born in 1990. Negra is the oldest and she was captured in Africa as an infant sometime between 1968 and 1973.
Q: Will they be having any babies?
A: No. The males at CSNW had vasectomies (the same type of procedure that humans have) before they came to the sanctuary.
Responsible sanctuaries do not allow intentional breeding. While emotionally appealing, the possible value in allowing captive chimpanzees to experience raising their young is far outweighed by the fact that this would perpetuate the cycle of captivity. Even in the best possible facility, it is impossible to mimic what life is like for chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Sanctuaries devote their limited resources to providing captive chimpanzees with the best possible life they can and to rescuing chimpanzees in need. Producing babies whose fate is a lifetime of confinement in captivity and who require continued financial support goes against the mission of a rescue organization. For more about the birds and the bees of chimpanzees, take a look at this informative post.
Q: Where did they come from?
A: The first group of seven chimpanzees at CSNW came from the Buckshire Corporation, a company in Pennsylvania that leases animals for biomedical research and other purposes. At Buckshire, the chimpanzees lived for years in a series of cages in a windowless basement. Throughout their lives, most of the chimpanzees were shuffled between laboratories in New Mexico, New York, and Pennsylvania, often living alone in cages no bigger than a public bathroom stall.
The chimpanzees who came from Wildlife Waystation in 2019 were born at the Laboratory for Experimental Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP). When LEMSIP closed in 1996, the chimpanzees were all slated to be transferred to a notorious laboratory in New Mexico called the Coulston Foundation. The lead veterinarian at LEMSIP worked behind the scenes to place over a hundred chimpanzees at different refuges and sanctuaries before they could be moved to Coulston. Over 30 of these chimpanzees went to Wildlife Waystation in California and most of them were very young (six years old and younger) at the time. When Wildlife Waystation closed in 2019, there were 42 chimpanzees living in various groups. Willy B, Honey B, and Mave were the first three to be moved out of Wildlife Waystation and they arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest on August 18, 2019 after a 24-hour journey from California to Washington. Watch their journey to the sanctuary here.
Q: What kinds of tests were done on them in biomedical research?
A: The records that we have for the original group of seven indicate that all of them were used in hepatitis vaccine testing, which would involve repeated liver biopsies (punch or wedge) to determine how the vaccine was affecting the liver. We don’t have their full medical histories – a lot of information was taken out of their files for proprietary reasons - so they were likely used in other studies that we know nothing about. All of the female chimpanzees of the original seven, except for Jamie, were also bred while in biomedical research. Their babies were taken from them to also be used as biomedical test subjects. In fact, Honey B, who came from Wildlife Waystation in 2019, is Missy's daughter! As far as we know, they did not spend any time together at the laboratory and do not know they are related, but we see glimpses of their similarities once in a while. Here's a blog post about just that.
Q: Why don’t you work on getting them released into the wild?
A: There are many reasons why they cannot be released into the wild, but perhaps the most significant is that chimpanzees rely heavily on cultural knowledge for survival in the wild. Having been raised in captivity, the chimpanzees at CSNW lack the most basic skills for survival such as finding and procuring food, and protecting themselves from the dangers of their environment.
Q: Do the chimps understand when you talk to them?
A: Studies have shown that chimpanzees raised in human environments can understand spoken language, at least to some extent. We will often make complex spoken requests of the chimps, such as "Jody, can you get the blanket out of the door?" and, when they are feeling cooperative, they comply.
Q: Do they know sign language?
A: The chimpanzees at CSNW do not know sign language. Jamie may have been taught a few signs at some point in her life, either in the lab or more likely when she lived with the trainer, but she relies on her own gestures to communicate with the humans.
Q: Do they wear clothes?
A: All of the chimpanzees at CSNW were raised in a human environment, either in the lab, with a trainer, or as a pet in someone’s home. As a result, they sometimes do things that we consider "human," such as wearing clothes. We would never force the chimpanzees to wear clothing. Instead, we offer clothes as part of their enrichment (the blankets, toys, puzzles, etc. that we give them to keep them occupied and entertained). They may choose to wear the clothes, ignore them, or use them for some other purpose, like playing tug-of-war. In contrast to the chimpanzees used in entertainment who do not have a choice about what they wear (and are often forced and duct-taped into their outfits), the CSNW chimpanzees are free to make these decisions for themselves. In a better world, all chimpanzees would grow up in their own culture in the wild where they belong.
How to Help
Q: Can I volunteer?
A: There are limited volunteer opportunities within the chimp house. Occasionally, we have volunteer days for grounds clean-up or construction projects. We also accept volunteers to help with fundraising events. In addition, we'd love to talk to you if you have professional experience that you feel would help the sanctuary. For questions and to fill out an online volunteer application, visit the volunteer page
Q: What kinds of stuff can I donate?
A: The chimpanzees enjoy a variety of toys as well as sheets and blankets and many food items, but storage is an issue and there are dietary restrictions as well as certain types of toys that we don’t give the chimps. The best thing to do is to check the wish list or email us: info@ChimpsNW.org
Q: What’s the best way to help?
A: The sanctuary relies on donations, so the most helpful gift you can give is a cash donation. We also accept a lot of in-kind donations of supplies and labor. Check out the wish list online and fill out a volunteer application (see above for details).
More questions? Email us: info@ChimpsNW.org