First 10 ex-space chimps arrive at Primarily Primates
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1999:
SAN ANTONIO––The first 10 chimpanzees
of 31 former members of the NASA colony who are to
be retired to Primarily Primates arrived on December 28.
All females, of ages ranging from 25 to mid-forties, the
group reportedly settled in easily, and are expected to
help those who follow to feel at home.
Five, transported ahead of the other five,
spent a week at the Southwest Foundation for
Biomedical Research, also in San Antonio, while the
Primarily Primates crew rushed to finish their quarters.
But that should be the last any of them ever see of confinement
at a research facility. Many have spent most of
their lives in close confinement, often in isolation. At
Primarily Primates, they will be housed in semi-natural
troupes, with both indoor and outdoor living areas,
from which they can come and go as they please.
The newcomers soon discovered a 24-foot
enclosed climbing tower.
“They love to look around,” Primarily
Primates president Wally Swett told Cary Cardwell of
the Houston Chronicle. “There are cattle in nearby
fields, and wild deer, and that kind of altitude gives
them something interesting to watch.”
The climbing was hard for one chimp, Lynn.
“She was the subject of experiments involving degenerative
bone disease,” Swett explained. “As a result, she
can’t use her right arm.”
Next, Swett and partner Stephen Tello must
raise approximately $1 million before October 1 in order
to build facilities for the 21 chimps yet to come––and
then must raise their cost of upkeep. If possible, they
hope to acquire additional nearby land, which would
permit them to build better and larger enclosures, with
less risk of the sort of occasional flash-flooding that
unearthed water lines and blew out electrical equipment
at Primarily Primates in 1986 and October 1998. The
damage was more tedious each time than serious, and
most of the resident animals appeared to enjoy the diversion,
while Swett and Tello had the burdens of fix-up
The chimps meanwhile remain temporarily in
custody of the Coulston Foundation, the world’s largest
supplier of chimps to biomedical research, which has
managed the former NASA colony at Holloman Air
Force Base in southern New Mexico under contract
Primarily Primates was the only sanctuary
whose bid to take the chimps into retirement was accepted
in August 1997 by the U.S. Air Force, which had
been ordered by Congress to divest itself of them all.
The other 110 chimps from the 141-member NASA
colony were permanently awarded to Coulston.
But that scarcely settled the matter. Some of
the losing bidders, including the Institute for Captive
Chimpanzee Care and Well-Being, headed by primatologists
Jane Goodall and Carole Noon, are pursuing legal
action seeking to change the verdict, raising funds in
support of the case, and meanwhile holding the funds
they assembled in expectation of winning the chimps on
the chance that they might succeed.