The Cle Elum Seven Chimpanzees spent decades in biomedical research laboratories and holding facilities in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.
The minimum space requirements for housing chimpanzees under the Animal Welfare Act remain shockingly, well, minimal. It’s still legal to keep a chimpanzee in a 5’x5’x7′ cage. These days, however, most laboratories that are still housing chimpanzees allow them to live in social groups and give them some sort of outside access. The National Institutes of Health recommends (though doesn’t require) enclosures that provide at least 250 square feet of space per chimpanzee. As a point of reference, for our group of seven, that’s a total of 1,750 square feet. Think about the size of your apartment or house as a comparison. Now think of yourself having only that amount of space for the rest of your life. Still, 250 square feet is way beyond the twenty-five square-foot cages that the Cle Elum Seven spent much of their lives.
The changes in how labs house chimpanzees came about in part due to pressure from a public that had gained insight into the deep intelligence and social lives of these beings that are so closely related to us.
Beyond just amount of space, providing an enriching, stimulating, interesting environment for chimpanzees is about giving them lots and lots of choices. Even if they only use some of their space a fraction of the time or only pick up a certain object one out of every five times it’s available, simply living in an environment that provides a large amount of variety is a huge part of giving intelligent primates at least some of what they need.
After spending decades in small spaces without access to the outside, I wonder if the Cle Elum Seven could have imagined a place like CSNW with 85,000 square feet of space.
Once they were at the sanctuary, their bodies and their minds knew what to do.
They followed their instincts, put their muscles to work, and got down to the business of exploring.
They reached into their imaginations and indulged in private games and adventures.
They broadened their palate and relished opportunities to search for and gather food.
No one had to teach them to be chimpanzees.
(Just a note about these photos – they were all taken today! The photos include Foxie, Jamie, Annie, and Missy.)