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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Chimp haven moves ahead
Chimp BBC
By Claire Imber

Former laboratory chimpanzees in the US should now get their retirement home in Louisiana - provided $6m can be raised to fund the project.

A team led by Professor William McGrew of Miami University has inspected land donated to Chimp Haven Inc, and says there are plenty of suitable plant species for chimps to eat, build nests and with which to make tools.

Chimp Haven Inc is a non-profit organisation that wants to build secure and comfortable accommodation for the animals that allows them to live in as natural a state as possible.

The project is backed by renowned primatologists like Professor McGrew, plus experts from zoos, medical research facilities and animal rehabilitation programmes.

 BBC Horizon: Chimps On Death Row (1998)

A combination of successful breeding programmes and a reduced need for chimps in research has led to a surplus of animals, 600 of whom could be retired. As chimps live to be 60, caring for these surplus animals is expensive.

Social groups

Chimp Haven Inc says its state-of-the-art designs will provide a centre that can take up to 200 chimpanzees at around a third of the cost of laboratory housing.

Professor McGrew's team surveyed the donated land close to Shreveport last summer. At a recent conference, it reported finding edible plants and fruiting trees, and said the habitat could be sustainably harvested.

This means the site, which came from the Caddo Parish, is perfectly suitable for chimps, and the building programme can now go ahead once the necessary funding has been secured.

The chimps will be able to live in social groups, forage and build overnight nests outdoors in the warm, lush climate of northwestern Louisiana.

Indoor housing and veterinary attention will be provided. The sanctuary will represent a huge improvement in the living conditions for some of the animals that have had to endure cramped and sterile conditions for most of their lives.

Natural habitats

Professor McGrew and his colleagues hope Chimp Haven will be the first of many retirement homes funded in partnership between the government and the research institutions that use chimpanzees.

The first residents of Chimp Haven should arrive in 2001, and are likely to be ex-research animals, plus chimps kept as pets until they grew too large.

In the past, the chimps have been used for research into Aids, hepatitis and space travel. Since their natural habitats in Africa are diminishing, they can never return to the wild environments that few of them have even seen.

Chimp Haven believes it offers the best chance of repaying the debt owed to the animals that have played such important roles in modern medicine and technology.

About 1,600 chimpanzees are currently housed in research laboratories in the United States.

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