Chimpanzee Sanctuaries: Background information when reading Mama's Last Hug

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Mama's Last Hug

Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves

by Frans de Waal

Mama's Last Hug by Frans de Waal X
Mama's Last Hug by Frans de Waal
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2019, 336 pages
    Mar 2020, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Chimpanzee Sanctuaries

This article relates to Mama's Last Hug

Print Review

Hugo, a chimpanzee living at the Chimp Haven sanctuaryIn Mama's Last Hug, Frans de Waal details the observation of chimpanzees in places like Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands. Chimps there enjoy a relatively peaceful existence with large enclosures mimicking their natural habitat. In the United States, a number of organizations are working to establish a similar quality of life for chimps that were bred in captivity for research purposes.

Research chimps were commonly bred for medical experiments, especially those related to treating hepatitis and HIV. As we have achieved a growing awareness of chimpanzee intelligence—and the knowledge that we share 96% of our DNA with them—the ethics of these research methods have been called into question. In 1997, the National Anti-Vivisection Society introduced the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Management and Protection (CHIMP) Act which strategized and funded sanctuaries around the U.S. for chimps retired from medical experiments. When the National Institute of Health banned testing on chimps in 2015, the need for new homes grew quickly. Nearly 300 chimps are still waiting in research facilities to be rehomed, and the NIH says this wait will likely continue into 2023. Bipartisan legislature has been introduced to expedite the process. The growing number of chimps means sanctuaries must grow too—and faster than they had planned. Chimp Haven, the only sanctuary designated for NIH-owned chimps, sits on 200 forested acres near Shreveport, LA. Frans de Waal is a longtime member of their board of directors and helps ensure animal care. The preserve is now home to around 300 chimps of varying age, averaging 31 years old. The land and care have all been carefully curated with chimps in mind, ensuring that the animals get properly socialized into families when they first arrive. Each family has five acres of green space, sheltered housing and play areas.

Chimp Haven is not open to the public, though in 2018 they launched a quarterly one-day event known as Chimpanzee Discovery Days, in which people are permitted to tour the property and observe chimps. They also provide plenty of videos and information online year-round. Some of these informative videos explore the sanctuary's vet facilities, and the significance of the organization's work—I got chills watching Jane Goodall visit the sanctuary and describe how it gives the chimps back their ability to make choices. They also offer photos and descriptions of the chimps' personalities. I loved the story of Hugo, who's only two but quickly ascended to alpha male thanks to his boundless energy.

While their only land is in Louisiana, the sanctuary networks with worldwide preservation groups in an effort to educate the public. Reading their materials, I learned about chimp conservation work around the world, including how Uganda and Tanzania now require visitors to buy a permit to see gorillas or chimps—about $70 for chimps—with that money going toward conservation. I also learned about the danger that human disease presents to chimps—polio has killed many animals at Gombe Stream Research Centre, Goodall's facility in Tanzania. It's powerful to see that one sanctuary in the U.S. is connected to worldwide campaigns while maintaining a clear domestic focus.

While Chimp Haven awaits the new additions, they're continuing to develop their property and advance their care services. That's good news for Hugo—as well as Ned, Onyx, Margo, Ladybird and Queenie Latifah, to name just a few of their stars.

Hugo the chimpanzee, courtesy of Chimp Haven

Filed under Nature and the Environment

This "beyond the book article" relates to Mama's Last Hug. It originally ran in May 2019 and has been updated for the March 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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