Continued from page 1

They get about a month at a time with access to each of the quarter-acre play areas and the habitats of 3 to 5 acres populated by dense stands of pines where the primates can nest high in the trees.

Two other groups of recent arrivals from the university lab in New Iberia are getting acquainted with each other because each includes a youngster. The aim is to meld them and other groups with juveniles into a group with Chimp Haven’s three “oops” babies, all sired by Conan, who has been at Chimp Haven for years.

The 111 incoming chimps include a total of eight youngsters; one was born to a female chimp with HIV, but the others and their mothers all are destined to become part of Conan’s social group.

On Tuesday, Conan’s crowd was in a play area, catching fruit thrown by staffers. A female named Sheila slapped her hands together and then held up an arm to attract attention.

A few minutes’ walk away, another group of 15 chimps raced from the steel mesh tunnel between their sleeping area and a 5-acre forested habitat toward an array of fruits and vegetables strewn on the ground. Some grabbed a hoard of bananas, apples and oranges before starting to munch; others ate immediately.

After a bit, several turned to a tall, pointed structure with PVC pipes stuck in it _ an imitation termite mound. In the wild, chimps poke sticks into termite mounds to pull out insects to eat. At Chimp Haven, the tubes may hold honey-coated bits of fruit or sugar-free candy, inducing the great apes to use tools as they would in the wild.

Fultz said some newcomers won’t even step on the grass in the play yards, but Julius‘ group had no qualms.

“They sit and look around. They look up at the sky. To me, they seem to be thinking, `There’s no bars,’” Fultz said.

That isn’t to say bars don’t exist in the sanctuary.

Indoor bedrooms, furnished with straw and blankets for making nests, and old fire hose for climbing, have steel mesh interior walls to keep chimps in.

Chimps with HIV, hepatitis or other major medical or psychological problems have outdoor areas surrounded by the same wide, heavy steel mesh. The peaked ceilings are of pipes laid a few inches apart from each other so the chimps can swing across the ceiling arm over arm, as they might in trees.

“Those spaces are huge. They’re huge,” said Lori Gruen, a Wesleyan University philosophy professor who specializes in animal ethics. Chimp Haven is “a pretty remarkable facility. I think it will be quite interesting and exciting to see it expand.”

But there’s a major hurdle. When Chimp Haven was made the national sanctuary in 2002, Congress capped spending on the project at $30 million. That cap will be hit this year.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, a Republican representing northwest Louisiana, said in a statement emailed by his press secretary that any additional federal spending “will be difficult” in the current budget climate of mounting federal debt and ongoing national security priorities.

Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research issues of the Humane Society of the United States, and other advocates say there’s no need for additional spending if Congress would let NIH put money now spent on research contracts into the animals’ retirement.

Story Continues →