Debbie from refuge
There was a series on Animal Planet - which is actually still continuing I guess but I don't get Animal Planet anymore since I don't have cable at all - but it was a series about a chimpanzee refuge in England that has really affected me. It is an awesome television series and if you ever get a chance to watch it you should. It's taught me loads and loads about that species and how they've been absolutely horribly abused over the decades by us and how some people are trying to help end their torture. The refuge has a website at http://www.monkeyworld.co.uk/main.php which is also very good.
But anyway - I got an email this morning which is a copy of a newspaper article from the National Post about a new refuge opening in Florida for rescued Chimps in North America - and it's a fabulous article and I felt compelled to put it here even though it has nothing to do about dogs it still has everything to do about sentient beings who are suffering just like us and are maybe on their way to having that suffering lessened a little bit by a fabulous and dedicated woman. I thought it was an important article to get out there for as many people to read as possible. Here it is:
Sunday » May 1 » 2005
'They have served their country'
Abused chimpanzees finally find sanctuary at a Florida retirement home
Saturday, April 30, 2005
In Florida not long ago I visited a retirement home. What am I saying? The whole state is a retirement home, God's Waiting Room! So what on Earth is so special about this particular retirement home?
Chimpanzees, that's what. The residents are retired chimpanzees.
The 80-hectare facility at Fort Pierce, in St. Lucie County, is still under construction, but some 35 apes are already settled in. By the end of this year there will be more than 300 of them, with 266 reinforcements brought in from a former laboratory in New Mexico. By then Save the Chimps will be the world's biggest sanctuary for captive chimpanzees rescued from cruel experiments and living conditions in U.S. laboratories.
Some of them are former astronauts; two of them the first living creatures NASA sent into orbit. Ham was first into space. Enos, the second, had been trained by rewards and electric shocks to perform a series of actions in flight. By accident, the program was reversed and Enos was painfully shocked instead of rewarded for doing the right things. Nevertheless, he performed correctly, even heroically. These two pioneers of space were five years old at the time. Part of a contingent of 50 babies captured in Africa, they had grown up in nurseries. Their comrades were used to find out how much acceleration and sudden deceleration they could stand, along with other horrible tests. When the U.S. Air Force had finished with them, it warehoused them in cages five feet by five feet by seven feet, without companions or daylight, for 20 years. Twenty years solitary -- it would kill most humans, and chimpanzees are our nearest relatives, sharing nearly 99% of our DNA.
Other chimps were sold to labs where they were infected with AIDS, hepatitis, syphilis, malaria and other infectious diseases, and used to test insecticides.
The site is not easy to find. The county is flat and almost featureless, except for a few tattered palms here and there. Save the Chimps is hidden in plain view among citrus groves and cattle spreads. I was met by Arn Andrews, assistant director of development, a smiling, friendly presence to soften the gruff impact of the director, Dr. Carole Noon.
Dr. Noon is a marvel, a biological anthropologist who studied chimps under Jane Goodall. Tough, weather-beaten, she's totally focused, with an amazing talent for getting things done. In her early years she ran a carpet-cleaning service and after a divorce began her second career as a biological anthropologist. She took her PhD at Florida University and worked with chimpanzees in Zambia and the U.S. for 20 years. Appalled by the way the U.S. Air Force treated the apes, she took them to court with the help, pro bono, of a Washington lawyer. After a year of legal footwork, the Air Force, prompted by the Department of Justice, settled by giving her their chimpanzees. They had violated their own protocols when they sold the apes to the Coulston laboratory, in New Mexico, notorious for maltreating their primates.
Before I met Dr. Noon, Andrews gave a tour. Originally from Seattle, Andrews spends some time on Salt Spring Island, B.C., when he's not at work here, or with his wife in New Mexico where she's a veterinarian working with the Coulston chimps.
In the kitchen a group of volunteers was preparing fresh food for the apes, including small boards pierced with holes into which they were stuffing raisins. These would be hidden around the island. Finding and prying out the treats would challenge the chimps and keep them busy.
After viewing a short video we went outside.
Most of the area under construction is taken up by two artificial lakes containing 12 islands or peninsulas of about a hectare or two each. Chimpanzees never try to cross water, which is just as well since their bodies cannot float. On the land to which the islands are joined are buildings where the apes eat and sleep in big cages, with hammocks and shelves for nesting sites. They get three nourishing meals a day and plenty of blankets and sheets for nesting. Every morning they're locked out, while the humans clean up their quarters and take away their blankets for laundering. Divisions between cages are arranged so that a chimp can be isolated for protection from possible aggression during introductions. But as it turned out, even after years of solitary confinement, these apes embraced their new roomies with joy. Dr. Noon's specialty is resocializing chimps, which she has done successfully with the first group.
I talked with her, sitting on a bench in view of the island, where over the water we could see mature chimps, many in their 40s, moving about on all fours or climbing the lofty structures equipped with hammocks. Dr. Noon recalled how the project came about. "It was a combination of being led in the right direction by Jane Goodall, having the right experience and bumping into a guy with enough money to pay for it." She added, "I'm probably the luckiest person I know." She's also single-minded. This refuge is for chimpanzees, not humans. It's not a zoo, still less a laboratory or breeding program. In fact, Dr. Noon ordered vasectomies for all the males. "What would the breeding be for? More animals for zoos or experiments?" Yet when the chimps had been together for a while three babies were born. "Not my idea. The exception to my good luck."
Eventually there will be an interpretation centre, possibly with closed-circuit TV to monitor the chimps. There's already a popular program that invites well-wishers to contribute by adopting individual chimps (http://www.savethechimps.org/).
The "guy with enough money" Dr. Noon bumped into is Jon Strycker of the Arcus Foundation, which supports humane work of various kinds, including the care of primates. Arcus gave significant funding to the project, including US$1.7- million to buy the site, and a whopping US$3.7-million to purchase the Coulston laboratory. The U.S. government had ceased funding it because of its violations of the Animal Welfare Act. "What we found was a dark and dismal place where hundreds of chimps with vacant stares sat in barren cement cages," reports Dr. Noon. She quickly turned that around, providing fresh food -- even pasta salad -- and opening the cages so the apes could interact. All these chimps will be moved to the island refuge at Fort Pierce.
Dr. Noon asked the U.S. Air Force to help with the move. It should do something, she suggested, to redeem their former treatment of the apes. The Air Force refused.
Dr. Noon likes talking about her chimps, they're personalities she knows intimately, some aggressive, some timid, some humorous. A brief case history shows what kind of treatment chimps received in the Coulston Foundation. Bobby was born there in January, 1983, taken from his mother and raised in a nursery. Beginning at the age of one, he endured eight different studies, was anaesthetized more than 350 times and subjected to numerous biopsies of his liver and muscles. He lived alone in a small cage, becoming so depressed he took out his fear and anger by biting his own arm. This cruelty was imposed on an intelligent, sensitive creature, with almost human emotions. Once Dr. Noon's staff took care of Bobby, he put on weight and found health and happiness, though he still sometimes wounds himself.
Providing sanctuary for chimpanzees comes at a cost, and Dr. Noon spends much of her time writing grant applications. As well as Arcus Foundation, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Doris Day Animal League, Friends of Warshoe, In Defense of Animals, The Anti-Vivisection Society and others have helped fund her. Her board members include Jane Goodall, the ranking authority on chimp behaviour, Roger Fouts, the expert in chimp communication and the philanthropist Strycker. "When you look at the big picture," Dr. Noon says, "It's going to cost me US$1.7-million to care for 300 chimpanzees in beautiful tropical surroundings. ... People spend close to US$30-billion a year on their dogs and cats and pets."
Dr. Noon is sometimes told the money should be spent on the poor, a specious argument that recalls the protest of Judas when Mary Magdalen gave Jesus precious ointment. People who say this are seldom giving money to anyone.
Save the Chimps is a project that implies more than the rescue of maltreated animals. It is righting a wrong.
According to Dr. Noon, the chimps have earned a peaceful retirement.
In captivity they can live well into their 50s. "They have bravely served their country. They are heroes and veterans. They deserve their retirement."
© National Post 2005