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Chimp News!

Chimp Island: An Inside Look



Dr. Carole Nooon

 
 

By Deanna Fené

First Coast News

FORT PIERCE, FL — For the first time in their lives these chimpanzees are free to roam, free to play, free to interact with others.

They are all curious and all very different, each one has their own personality and their own way of doing things.

Tammy is, for instance, a picky eater. Emily is very maternal. She came from Africa more than forty years ago.

There are nearly one-hundred chimpanzees here. They range in age from three to 47-years old. The older ones came from Africa. They were brought to America when they were just babies to be part of the space program.

In the late 1950s the U.S. Air Force used a group of chimpanzees to test the effects of space travel on humans. The chimps were exposed to adverse conditions in order to make space flight possible.

The tests included spinning the chimps in a giant centrifuge, exposing them to powerful G-Forces, and measuring how long it took one of the animals to lose consciousness in a decompression chamber.

Once America made it to space, the chimps were no longer of any use. They were leased out for biomedical research.

“These chimps were used in research, one research protocol after another so a lot of them at age of twenty, which is a mature age, have heart conditions and high blood pressure. We’re seeing all sorts of complications,” said Dr. Carole Noon, founder of Save the Chimps.

The chimps were poked, injected with diseases and operated on after the Air Force gave them to the Coulston Foundation, a now defunct biomedical research facility in New Mexico.

Many lived for several decades in small cages.

Dr. Noon calls them cement cages because the cages were too small for the chimps to stand and too close for them to interact with others.

Many became sick and depressed.

“Chimps are like us. They are as social as you and I are. When we want to punish someone for a heinous crime we call it solitary confinement and that’s what these chimps were living in,” said Dr. Noon.

Dr. Noon took them away from all that. She got custody of the 21 former Air Force chimps. In 2002, she acquired the Coulston Foundation’s Biomedical Research Lab and custody of an additional 266 chimpanzees.

“I knew when I started I was going to grow gradually, that was part of my plan. I didn’t plan to grow overnight,” said Noon.

Eventually nearly 300 rescued chimpanzees will live at the sanctuary.

Dr. Noon has created twelve islands near Fort Pierce, complete with jungle gyms and hammocks for the chimps to play on. Each island also has its own indoor feeding house.

These chimpanzees, who once had the “right stuff” for the space program, are now free to live out their lives in a more natural, peaceful environment.

“I’m doing it with the support of a lot of people because it’s the right thing to do, because except for a couple of genes here and there, they are us. They certainly deserve better than they have gotten,” said Noon.

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