Wisdom of the Wild
A Chimp Haven

Chimpanzee and human

Do you owe your life to a chimpanzee? Over the last century, millions of people have been able to live longer, healthier lives thanks to the medicines and surgical techniques that were tested on chimpanzees — one of humankind’s closest relatives. Dozens of vaccines, for instance, have been perfected on chimps purposefully infected with diseases such as polio and hepatitis.

And other chimps have helped us make major technological leaps, by testing everything from submarines to spacecrafts to make sure they are safe for human use.

Sadly, chimpanzees have received little thanks for the knowledge they have allowed us to gain. Once their work is over, if they survive, their futures are grim: they often live out their lives — which can last nearly as long as humans’ — in cramped cages or laboratories. As NATURE’s Wisdom of the Wild shows, however, people are increasingly joining a movement to create sanctuaries for these “surplus” animals, allowing them to spend the rest of their long lives with greater dignity and freedom.

One of the leaders of the sanctuary movement is Linda Koebner, an animal behavior researcher who once studied how chimps adapted back to life outside the laboratory, and who now works to place hundreds of surplus research chimps in new homes. In Wisdom of the Wild, we watch as Linda is reunited with some the first chimps she worked with 25 years ago, veterans of medical research later released into a Florida refuge. And the show takes viewers to a new sanctuary she is establishing in Louisiana, where she hopes to realize her dream of creating the nation’s first large-scale chimp haven.

Even as Koebner works, however, debates rage about the fate of surplus chimpanzees. In the United States, several groups have sued the federal government and private laboratories in efforts to reduce the use of wild chimpanzees in research, and move those now stored in laboratories to less restrictive refuges.

In October 1999, for instance, the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care and the Doris Day Animal League won a long-sought agreement with the Coulston Foundation, a New Mexico research laboratory, to free 21 chimps descended from animals involved in the U.S. space program. The controversy began in 1997, when the U.S. Air Force decided to give 111 of the so-called “space chimps” to the research foundation, which critics charged had compiled a wretched record of violating animal care laws. “It is inconceivable that the Air Force would have given these remarkable creatures to the Coulston Foundation for continued research, rather than retiring them to a sanctuary,” famed chimp researcher Jane Goodall said at the time.

The Coulston Foundation was forced to give up 300 of its 650 chimpanzees, however, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that the laboratory had mistreated the chimps. The agreement was “a big win for these magnificent animals,” said USDA official Michael V. Dunn when the September 1999 deal was announced. It also made it possible for some “very lucky chimpanzees to move to [a] sanctuary,” notes Liz Clancy Lyons of the Doris Day Animal League.

But other chimp battles are far from over. Congress is considering legislation that would limit the number of chimps used in research. Supporters say the move is needed to reduce the incentive for illegally capturing the animals from the wild, and to prevent research that might harm the apes while returning little useful knowledge.

Opponents of the proposed rules, however, say it could hamstring efforts to find treatments for AIDS and other diseases that urgently need cures. Sometimes, notes one biomedical scientist who works with chimps but declined to be named, “there is simply no alternative to using chimps because they are so closely related to humans, and ethical concerns prevent us from doing some experiments on humans. But we should be treating these animals with great respect and care — after all, sometimes our lives literally depend on them. They provide insights we can gain nowhere else.”

  • Michelle

    Do not think I can read this without prejudice, I read this with a bleeding heart and a wounded soul.
    How could anyone think this is humane…I say to you I will not look the other way, I will gather support to fight this travesty of injustice, but when I walk away I do not forget your eyes…I see your heart thru mine and I shall feel your pain until you have none.

  • Virginia McKelvey, Ph.D.

    Are you accepting volunteers?

  • Ana Perla

    I would like to contribute, please tell me how to make a donation.

  • Toby Gould

    I would like to donate to Ms. Koebner’s new project in Louisana. Please tell me how to do this.

  • Krista

    I was very touched by this program. I would like to contribute in some way. Please let me know how I could be of help.

  • Will & Ginny Elliott

    We, too, would like to contribute to the Chimp Haven in Louisiana. Please send us information on how to do so.

  • Jane

    Am interested in volunteering. Can you send information/needed jobs? Thank you.

  • NATURE Online

    If you are interested in becoming involved with Chimp Haven, please contact them directly. Visit http://www.chimphaven.org/

  • Marion Latham, Ph.D.

    I am touched forever by this report. I would like to know how to volunteer.

  • Pamela

    I was very moved by this segment and want to contribute. Will you be posting this information for viewers?

  • Barbara Sunskis

    I too, want to contribute to the Chimp Haven in Louisiana. I cannot understand why we have to experiment on these poor helpless animals.

  • christine carpenter

    I am one of the many that owe thanks to these chimps. I will live a much longer and full life because of these courageous souls. They were never asked nor did they volunteer for such a horrible life. I feel so sad for them. I will always be grateful and I owe them many thanks. If there is anything I could give in return, I would be most willing.

  • Pamela T. Caper

    Your program broke my heart. I feel frustrated, I would like to do more than contribute (which I will do). What can I do from a little town an hour & a half
    northwest of Seattle? There must be a better way, it’s experimenting on our cousins.

  • Alexander Brezzani

    This is the most wanderfull lesson for humanity. Some times we say we act like animals bat they are much veta than we are.Love to help to this project.

  • t

    I couldn’t stop crying while watching this episode. Such beautiful, intelligent, sensitive, amazing beings. I don’t understand the statement from the biomedical scientist saying ‘it’s unethical to experiment on humans. But somehow it’s ok to experiment on these amazing animals – or animals of any sort? Why NOT use humans? They have the ability to volunteer, talk and can be made fully aware of what the consequences may be. Using other spirts/beings against their free will is plain wrong. There is another way – we just need to quit rationalizing.

  • Gau

    Why do they have to suffer in silence for our cause?

    Why do we have to contribute when the drug companies are direct beneficiaries in Billions of $$$?
    Why cant this animals be awarded & recognized as true heros of the human race?

  • Linda C.

    Thank you for this heart-wrenching program and for telling us how to donate to help the chimps. I believe that we should not be using animals in scientific research anymore. Again, thank you SO much.

  • Al

    Very heartbreaking story. That reunion was too much. I understand Linda has separated from Chimp Haven and there are legal issues around that. Hopefully, they can all work it out. She seems to have a great heart. So sad about Sparky. At least he had a few years in the wild after the labs got done with him. Wonder if the other two are still around.RIP Sparky and Thankyou.

  • Elly Napolitano

    I would also like to send a contribution to Linda Koebner for the sanctuary in Shreveport,Louisiana. I was very touched by this program and what she sets out to accomplish and what she has done in the past. I am grateful and thankful for what these chimpanzees have done for us. These chimpanzees are our unsung heroes. They deserve the BEST treatment and accommodations for their remaining years. Thank you for opening up my eyes. My heart goes out to these beautiful, selfless creatures.

  • Cori B.

    Beautiful program. Anyone interested in finding out more about the inner lives and struggles of these amazing animals might want to check out the book Next of Kin by Roger Fouts which follows the life of one of the first chimps to be taught sign language and later the struggles of her caretakers to find homes for her and other chimps used for research.

  • David Couto

    Chimpanzees are simply amazing! I am doing a projects with regards to great apes! Visit http://www.lstw.weebly.com to view it! Nature has inspired me to make such a difference in the world!

  • The Primates Advocate

    If you would like to learn about or even help chimps, then try these two sites: http://chimp-rescue.com/ and also http://jack.wildlifedirect.org/

  • Fernnado Costa

    We should end animal testing once and for all. We abuse animal to live a better and healthier lives. How can one think that it is ok to do that to animals. Lets test on humans instead. We are the one that needs it, so test on the sick people.

  • Rae McWhirter

    This is a grave injustice, indeed. It wounds me to know that we overlook, mistreat, and see fit to throw away the very creatures we should be treating with utmost respect. I don’t quite know where to begin to change this travesty, but begin I shall.


    I disagree with you. America is a waste land of fools without any moralls or ethics. Their is a difference between humans and apes and their was never a need to use animals in your research labs from hell. Americans beleive anything that sails under the flag of science blinded by marketing advertising and an inability to THINK. Totally in fear of death as cowards and would sell themselves for one more inhale fools that are to lazy for prevention of illness but great to beleive we are right around the corner from a so called cure. SEND US YOUR MONEY. Unable to remove the high wires that promote breast cancer or fight for clean air or water. only t willing to write a check to the billion dollar cancer racket. Lusting for the quick fix and are a bad joke to civilized people everywhere.



  • Rhonda Robinsonm

    The Chimps and other animals don’t get a say as to what medical researcjh they are helping with. This is Animal Cruelty and there is NO excuse for it. There are other ways of doing medical research without using living, breathing animals who feel pain, lonliness, fright and anxiety. Then after they are ” used up”, they are thrown into some cold small cage tor all thier contributions to “so called” Scientific Research…..I will never support Animal testing EVER, BECAUSE IT IS WRONG, BUT I DO SUPPORT AN END TO THIS HELL….FIND SANCTUARY FOR THESE POOR ANIMALS, ALL THE DIFFERENT SPECIES THEY ABUSE AND SEND THEM TO A SAFE HAVEN. BE HUMAN AND DO THE RIGHT THING!!!!!!! AND YES, AS THE PERSON WHO WROTE THE COMMENT BEFORE ME; IT SHOULD BE AGAINST THE LAW….AMERICA IS THE ENLIGHTENED COUNTRY? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.

  • Florida

    I think it’s important, very important to be aware of the suffering of chimpanzees, I think it’s necessary and if not more progress has been made is because we are not able to eradicate the human hunger on the planet. The day we can, we will invest whatever is necessary to improve the lives of monkeys. abogados

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