It must be an unexpected site to behold. You glance out your car window while driving along the foothills just south of Cle Elum in Central Washington, and up on a hillside above the Yakima River, nestled among horse ranches and other rural outposts, you spot dark shapes moving behind a fence line. Two fence lines, in fact; both electrified. Too big to be dogs, too small to be bears, it takes a few moments to focus in but when you do you slam on the brakes as you suddenly realize you’re looking at… chimpanzees?
Knowing what we know about how chimpanzees experience the world, we believe it is wrong to use them in invasive biomedical testing. There is a compelling case for ending the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. The United States and Gabon are the only countries left in the world still using chimpanzees in the biomedical industry.
-Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest
The Cle Elum Seven – Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy, Negra – arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in mid-2008. Refugees from the biomedical research industry they have spent most of their lives in tiny, cramped cages; locked in windowless basements where they were experimented on as biomedical test subjects for hepatitis vaccine trials, and bred to provide more living subjects for even more experimentation.
Even though chimpanzees share almost ninety-nine percent of their genetic make-up with humans, and are more closely related to us than they are to gorillas, their efficacy as test subjects has been in doubt for some time, and only the United States and Gabon continue to use them in invasive biomedical studies. In early 2013, the National Institutes of Health recommended permanently retiring the almost 500 government-owned chimpanzees from research and moving them into sanctuary. While it’s now being better understood why chimpanzees don’t make good test subjects, what has long been known is that these intelligent animals suffer from immense physical and psychological stress as a result of a lifetime of confinement and testing, even before they’re given the first vaccine jab, the first wedge or punch biopsy of their liver afterwards, the first time they’re forced to breed, or the first time they had their infant taken from them after giving birth.
In September 2011 the Cle Elum Seven were allowed into a newly completed two-acre outdoor area at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest called Young’s Hill. When they first came out onto the hillside CSNW Co-Director J.B. Mulcahy said Jody, Foxie, Jamie, Negra, Annie, Missy, and Burrito stood hesitantly on its edge, hugging each other for comfort and support. In their thirty or so years of laboratory life, it was the first time most of them had ever felt grass under their feet, and the first time they had an unobstructed view of the heavens. I can only imagine what it must’ve been like for Jamie and her cohorts to suddenly find themselves in a completely new reality they’d never before known or remembered; one where they weren’t poked or prodded, cut or jabbed, bred and beaten; one where they could explore and socialize; one where there were no demands put on them other than to simply be.
This summer CSNW invited donors out for a brief informational visit to the sanctuary. It’s the second year they’ve extended the invitation and it’s a way for supporters to get a closer look and a better understanding of the difficult but rewarding work involved in caring for the Cle Elum Seven. With our car packed full of fresh produce, rolls of paper for the CE7 to make nests and crayons for them to draw with, a beautiful pair of rockin’ red cowboy boots for Jamie (who likes to patrol the perimeter of Young’s Hill in high fashion), troll dolls for Foxie (who, it’s believed, carries them around for comfort from having been forcibly bred and having her babies subsequently taken from her), we set out on a hot July afternoon to pay a visit.
Perched on benches just outside Young’s Hill we were joined by a very affable juvenile elk named Ellie that everyone in the town seemed to know and look after, and entertained by a trio of horses trotting around nearby. Before long the Cle Elum Seven came out to enjoy some midday food and enrichment, feel the sun on their bodies, and lay in the cool shade. Even from a distance, and with two electrical fences separating us, it was beautiful to watch them. And while Jamie enjoyed this day sans boots, after we left I was delighted to learn that she took a special liking to her new red rockers.
With some thousand-odd chimpanzees still used for biomedical testing in the United States, it’s going to take a lot of work, support, and devotion to provide them the sanctuary they are so deserving of. Where you can, please support the amazing, and amazingly hard, work Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest and others do.
Hope, love, home… sanctuary.