FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Save the Chimps Chimpanzee Sanctuary reopened to its members and donors for the first time in three years - a sign the sanctuary is slowly moving past its strict COVID-19 precautions.
Save the Chimps CEO Ana Paula Tavares says chimpanzees were also at risk to catch the virus, keeping only essential staff in close contact, while all staff wore masks and protective gear to protect the chimps.
Saturday, they allowed people inside, thanks to dropping COVID-19 case rates, hoping to show all of the work they continue to do to better the lives of chimpanzees.
Save the Chimps is a 150-acre sanctuary with 12 islands where chimpanzees live in family groups.
“They have bonds and friendships that are just inspiring,” Tavares said. “Chimpanzees are intelligent, curious, very strong, truly magnificent beings.”
221 chimpanzees currently call the sanctuary home, but over the years, more than 330 chimpanzees have lived on the sanctuary for their “retirement.”
“This is really a place for them to have a dignified retirement… They endured a lot,” Tavares said.
The majority of the chimps were rescued from biomedical research.
“They go through 100 plus surgeries in their lifetime and being poked,” Tavares said. “It’s tremendous suffering.”
Others were saved from the pet trade, entertainment industry, and U.S Space Program.
“These are social beings like us, so most of them lived in small cages, enslaved really, because they were serving. They were working but that was not voluntary,” Tavares said.
They would never survive in the wild given their past of captivity, so the sanctuary is the next best thing.
They are under the care of 50 behavior professionals and a 8-person veterinary team that gives the chimps individualized care.
Best of all, they’ll never again be caged. They can live out their days basking in the sun, or stay inside covered structures.
“It’s that freedom of choice,” Tavares said.
Recently, Tavares said an orthopedic team was on site to perform arthritis surgery for an aging chimp. It was a first of its kind procedure in the world.
They’ve also helped some of the most traumatized and isolated chimps learn how to blend into a chimpanzee family.
“So this is the place for them to just be, to just learn how to be chimps and enjoy life. Learn the behavior. Learn the language that will allow them to thrive in a place like this among other chimpanzees,” Tavares said.
Tavares says there are still 700 more chimpanzees in captivity that need to be rescued or relocated to sanctuaries.
“There’s still chimpanzees in biomedical labs that are not being used on research but not moved yet to sanctuaries.”
She would love to welcome more of those chimps to Fort Pierce, as Save the Chimps continues to try to make right so many of the wrongs chimpanzees endured.