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Chimpanzees Move Into New Enclosure

FUND FOR ANIMALS ©2006
Midge rests in the shade just underneath his hammock.

On April 19, 2006, the three chimpanzees at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch entered their newly constructed outdoor habitat and began a new chapter in their lives. For the first time in their lives, Midge, Kitty, and Lulu walked on grass – they’ve come along way from their previous lives in medical research and even from their previous enclosure at the sanctuary.

The three chimps watched with interest the week before as the final touches were completed inside their new home. They walked back and forth through the tunnel which connects their old space to the new enclosure and climbed down into the new holding area. They observed the new platforms being built, and the cargo nets being hung. They saw that the new space would have grass, branches to climb on, sunlight and fresh air.

In sharp contrast, the chimpanzees’ old enclosure is only one sixth of the size of the new one and built entirely of concrete and steel. Though it meets the basic needs of captive chimpanzees, there were no natural materials, such as soil, grass and tree branches. Instead the chimpanzees were given various toys and blankets for making nests and stimulated with regular physical and psychological enrichment activities. However, these efforts could never completely replace natural tendencies of picking through a rotted stump in search of insects or digging in the soil with a stick, common traits of chimpanzees in the wild. If chimps are destined to have a life in captivity, never to roam or swing through the jungle, we want them to have the best lives possible.

The ranch staff thought about turning this page in the chimpanzees’ lives and wondered if they would be receptive to the change. Having spent many years in small cages in laboratories, how would the chimpanzees react to all the space? In the past both Midge and Kitty had shown some reluctance to leaving their old enclosure and tried to bring along items they were familiar with, such as their bowls and blankets.

FUND FOR ANIMALS ©2006
Kitty and her treats.

This time once the lever was pulled, all three chimpanzees bound through the door. Lulu raced down the entire length of the enclosure, with Midge and Kitty following behind. They took in several laps before starting to explore. Midge pulled on the fire hoses that run up the tree trunk and tapped the bottom of a platform. Kitty went into the playhouse and sat in the window. After a game of tag between Lulu and Midge, Lulu sat by herself and picked grass to eat, one blade at a time. Midge’s hair stood on end, and he stomped his feet, before running toward the fence and stopping just short of where staff were standing outside of their enclosure. Kitty left the playhouse, climbed a pole to the roof and hung from the top of the enclosure.

They repeated these activities over the next couple of hours. Then, suddenly, Kitty decided to see if the door to her old quarters was still open. She climbed the ladder and went through the tunnel to the old enclosure, where she seemed reassured that she had a way to return. Midge, then Lulu, followed her, and all three relaxed in their old enclosure, which staff now call their “bedroom.” Soon thereafter, the chimpanzees went back through the tunnel again to their new enclosure. It must have seemed like a dream from which they were afraid to awaken.

As the day became late afternoon, the ranch staff breathed sighs of relief watching the chimpanzees play and explore their new home. As they were called to dinner, each climbed the ladder, walked through the tunnel and stepped back into their old home. Though they have lived in the comparatively small space for years, it as a safe place to sleep and relax. From that night on, the chimpanzees can dream of the future and what they will do next in their new outdoor habitat.

Thank you to the Renner Foundation for making this new, expansive and natural environment enclosure possible for the chimpanzees. Midge, Kitty, and Lulu are so grateful.

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Posted May 13, 2006