In recent years the battle to rescue the chimpanzee, endangered in the wild and jailed in research laboratories throughout the U.S., has acted as a catalyst to spur the growth of sanctuaries: lifelong homes for primates rescued from biomedical research, the entertainment industry, the exotic pet trade, or no longer wanted as pets. There are now seven primate sanctuaries in North America and eighteen in Africa united under the banners of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance and the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance that provide permanent homes for these animals, in close accordance with their social nature, with caregivers that recognize each animal as an individual, giving them, whenever possible, choices, and keeping them off-limits to the general public to shield them from anxiety and human disease.
Sanctuaries for many species are springing up around the world. Sometimes in man made environments for formerly captive animals incapable of return to the wild, others in protected parks and reserves carved from the wild.
The idea of “sanctuary” doesn’t refer only to the dictionary definition of a safe place, but also a concept—an awareness. A goal. To treat all animals as sentient beings deserving of respectful treatment as individuals wherever they are found.
Late Breaking Success
With funding provided by the supporters of the International Primate Protection League, a new forested enclosure built especially for sanctuary chimpanzees in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo welcomed its first residents. Construction on the 2.7 hectare (nearly 7 acre) electric-fenced enclosure at the Centre de Réhabilitation des Primates de Lwiro (CRPL) started in February 2008, was completed on May 1, 2012, at a cost of US $200,000. Two days later, the first chimpanzees were released into this forested habitat.
Misisi, Monique, Ituri, Maiko, Fizi, Julius, and Uvira (all around 4 to 6 years of age) were the first to investigate their new home. According to Andrea Edwards, the outgoing CRPL co-manager, “The young chimpanzees, accompanied by their long-time caregivers, were released into the forest and immediately began exploring. While Misisi and Monique were brave and independent, young Ituri decided it was wiser to be carried around by her dedicated caregiver, Papy.” A guava tree was the biggest hit!