NEW ORLEANS ( Associated Press) — An animal rights group has filed a federal complaint against the National Sanctuary for a federally owned chimpanzee once used for experiments.
According to Stop Animal Exploitation Now, a federal citation and Chimp Haven’s own report about the deaths from fights between chimpanzees show that the care of the sanctuary is poor.
The sanctuary in northern Louisiana said it took action soon after a woman was attacked in April by others in which it was being introduced. That animal was euthanized in May. Another woman escaped twice on June 2.
A warning letter from the US Department of Agriculture said both incidents violated animal handling regulations. It was also noted that Chimp Haven was following through on its protocol to introduce and isolate the animals, and that trees near the second female’s main enclosure have been cut down to prevent future migrations.
Chimp Haven has cared for more than 500 chimpanzees since it opened in 2005. Of these, 190 have died, including five others due to the chimpanzee invasion, it said in an emailed statement.
Chimpanzees also attack and sometimes kill each other in the wild, said developmental anthropologist Michael L. Wilson of the University of Minnesota, who studies chimpanzee behavior and biology.
“The killings … have been documented at most long-term study sites across Africa” and “may have occurred suddenly and unexpectedly, without provocation,” he wrote in an email.
They participated in a 2008 study that found attacks from other chimpanzees were the second most common cause of death in a wild colony in 46 years, behind only disease. 17 of the 130 deaths – or 20% of the 86 for which scientists knew the cause – were due to attacks by other chimpanzees.
In Chimp Haven this figure is less than 3%.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service issued a warning letter to Chimp Haven in June 2021 after a female was killed by other chimps and run away by two other females in a day. The inspector said the sanctuary had worked to fix the problems.
In December 2021, the sanctuary told federal officials that one male had died and the other had died after attacks by others. In the same month, it was reported that seven animals had fled from an unsecured skylight.
Ohio-based animal rights group co-founder Michael A. “Animal sanctuaries must keep animals safe and uninhabited, not allowing traumatic injuries requiring euthanasia or potentially dangerous animals to escape,” Budaki said.
“The care and well-being of chimpanzees is our top priority at Chimpanzee Haven,” it said in an emailed response to the sanctuary. It said there has never been such a large-scale effort to move chimpanzees from a “research setting to a life that is more similar to life in the wild.”
This involves introducing hundreds of animals to each other, because “chimpanzees need dynamic social groups to develop socially, physically, emotionally and psychologically.”
Sometimes such introductions just don’t work, the statement said.
“Managing chimpanzees in captivity poses tremendous challenges, as chimpanzees are strong, smart, impulsive and capable of violent attacks,” Wilson, a scientist at the University of Minnesota, wrote in his email.
Captive chimpanzees are “in many ways best if kept in social groups with multiple males and females, but such groups also present a number of challenges to management, including risks of aggression,” they wrote.