First chimps to arrive at sanctuary

June 10, 2008 4:26:49 AM PDT
A retirement home long in the making will welcome its first residents Friday, but these aren't your average senior citizens.

Seven chimpanzees from a medical laboratory in Pennsylvania are making a cross-country trip by truck to their new home at the nonprofit Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, an 18,000-cubic-foot facility on 26 acres near Cle Elum, about 70 miles southeast of Seattle.

The six females and one lucky male - Annie, Foxy, Jamie, Jody, Missy, Negra and Burreto - range in age from 24-34. In captivity, chimpanzees can live into their 60s, but generally their life span is 35-50 years old.

"It actually seems kind of unreal, because it's been such a long time coming," said Zibby Wilder, a volunteer and board member for the new facility. "We're just so excited to get them and to be able to provide such a great level of care for them."

Plans for the chimpanzee sanctuary were first hatched in 2003. The $150,000 sanctuary, one of nine such chimpanzee sanctuaries in the United States, is being built to give permanent homes to chimps that have been used by the entertainment and biomedical industries.

The seven chimps are being brought to the sanctuary from Buckshire Corp., in Perkasie, Pa., a laboratory and quarantine facility that provides chimpanzees for testing. Five were believed to have been born at the laboratory. They were mostly used for hepatitis B vaccine studies and have no infectious diseases, according to the sanctuary.

Wilder said the chimps' caretaker at Buckshire, who has been with them for 20 years, will be traveling with them to Cle Elum and will remain there for several weeks while they settle in to their new home.

"We're really excited to see their reactions. At their lab, they lived in the basement, with no windows or anything," Wilder said. "The sanctuary is up on a hill, with windows, and they have a view of the valley and the Yakima River. It's going to be really interesting to see their reaction to seeing some life out there."

Donations have paid for construction of the facility and will continue to pay for its operation and expansion. Still to be completed: an outdoor enclosure for the animals. Plans also call for building additional homes for more chimps at the site.

The Cle Elum sanctuary is not related to Central Washington University's Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in nearby Ellensburg, which researches communication between chimpanzees and humans.