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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Decade-long 'Great Chimp Migration' to St. Lucie County complete

Congratulations to Save the Chimps!!! Jen et al. all of your incredible work has paid off, I wish you all the best!!!-MA

by Alexi Howk

If chimps had a history book, Dec. 15 would be an important mark in it, said Save the Chimps Sanctuary Director Jen Feuerstein.

It's a landmark day for some chimps who got to touch grass for the first time and one that also culminated the decade-long "Great Chimpanzee Migration."

The migration came to a close last week as the last 10 of 266 total chimps were relocated from a former biomedical research lab in Alamogordo, N.M., to the Save the Chimps' 150-acre sanctuary in Fort Pierce.

CNN's Miami correspondent, John Zarrella, and camera crew joined Save the Chimps in New Mexico to film the entire migration from start to finish. The event will be featured on the network's "CNN Presents" sometime next year, Feuerstein said.

"There were a lot of tears when we departed the former lab in New Mexico for the last time, a mixture of happy and sad tears," Feuerstein said. "I'd say it was a bit like sending your kids off to college."

The chimps were transported to the Florida sanctuary in a custom-made trailer. As a cross-country tradition, each chimp gets treated to french fries and a window seat.

The two-day journey began Dec. 12. The new residents arrived at the sanctuary on Dec. 14 and were released the next day onto an island and introduced to their new outdoor freedom.

"None of these chimps had ever been outside of a cage before, and they hadn't ever seen grass, never mind touched it," Feuerstein said. "But every single one of them courageously went out the door, even though they had no inkling of what could be waiting for them on the other side. They were pretty quiet for teenage and twenty-something chimps and seemed a bit mystified by it all."

Dubbed by the organization as the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world, Save the Chimps provides permanent residence for chimps used by the research, entertainment and pet-trade industries.

The sanctuary, founded in 1997 by the late Dr. Carole Noon, is equipped with 12 man-made islands that connect to hurricane-proof housing units for the animals. Because chimps can't swim, each island is surrounded by moats of water to prevent the primates from escaping.

Many of the chimps at the sanctuary spent their entire lives in small, concrete cages unable to socialize with other primates or experience the outdoors. Many of them still carry the emotional scars of having painful experiments conducted on them.

Most of the chimps come from the Coulston Foundation, a research lab repeatedly cited for abusing and neglecting its primates. The lab closed in 2002 amid financial problems. Save the Chimps later won custody of the chimps and acquired and spruced up the property. The organization has cared for the chimps on site until they could be relocated to Florida.

"The caregivers there are so devoted and will miss the chimps deeply, but they are also overjoyed that the cages there are finally empty," Feuerstein said of the New Mexico facility. "There were also a lot of tears as we thought about Dr. Noon, wishing she was there to close the gate for the last time. This was her dream. But we all felt that she was there in spirit, and we are proud (to) have made her dream come true."

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