NEW ORLEANS — An animal rights group has filed a federal lawsuit against the federally owned National Chimpanzee Sanctuary once used for experiments.
A federal citation and Chimp Haven’s own reports of an escape and of deaths caused by chimp fights show the sanctuary’s care is poor, according to Stop Animal Exploitation Now.
The northern Louisiana sanctuary said it acted immediately after a female was attacked in April by other people she was introduced to. This animal was euthanized in May. Another female escaped twice on June 2.
A warning letter from the US Department of Agriculture said animal handling rules were violated in both incidents. He also noted that Chimp Haven was reviewing its animal introduction and separation protocols, and that trees near the second female’s main enclosure had been cut down to prevent future escapes.
Chimp Haven has cared for more than 500 chimps since it opened in 2005. Of those, 190 have died, five of them due to aggression from other chimps, an emailed statement said.
Chimpanzees sometimes attack and kill each other in the wild, said Michael L. Wilson, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Minnesota who studies chimpanzee behavior and biology.
“Killings … have been documented at most long-term study sites across Africa” and “can occur suddenly and unpredictably, without obvious provocation,” he wrote in a statement. E-mail.
He was involved in a 2008 study that found attacks by other chimpanzees were the second leading cause of death over 46 years in a feral colony, behind disease alone. Of 130 deaths, 17 – or 20% of the 86 whose cause scientists knew – were due to attacks by other chimpanzees.
In Chimp Haven, the figure is less than 3%.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service gave Chimp Haven the warning letter in June 2021 due to the death of a female being attacked by other chimpanzees and two escapes in one day by another female. The inspector noted that the sanctuary had taken action to correct the problems.
In December 2021, the shrine reported to federal authorities that a man had bled to death and another had died after attacks by others. In the same month, he reported that seven animals had escaped through an unsecured skylight.
“Animal shelters should keep animals safe and unharmed, not allow traumatic injuries requiring euthanasia or escapes of potentially dangerous animals,” said Michael A. Budkie, co-founder of the rights group of animals based in Ohio.
An email response for the sanctuary said: ‘The care and welfare of chimpanzees is our top priority at Chimp Haven.’ He said there had never been such large-scale work to move chimpanzees “from research settings to a life that closely resembles life in the wild”.
This involved introducing hundreds of animals to each other, as “chimpanzees need vibrant social groups to thrive socially, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.”
Very occasionally, those pitches didn’t work out, the statement said.
Wilson, the University of Minnesota scientist, wrote in his email: “The management of chimpanzees in captivity poses enormous challenges, as chimpanzees are strong, intelligent, impulsive and capable of violent attacks.”
Captive chimpanzees “are probably better off in many ways if housed in social groups with multiple males and females, but these groups also pose many challenges for management, including the risk of aggression,” a- he writes.