Picture this, you’ve spent your whole life indoors never leaving your own home. You can see the outside world from your window but are locked away, unable to reach it. Then, one day, your door opens and you’re given the chance to go out and explore for the first time.
How do you react? Excitement? Awe? Fear? Well, if you’re anything like these chimpanzees, it’s probably a combination of all three.
Project Chimps is a program designed to help reintroduce chimps used for animal experiments back into a life of freedom.
According to their website, former lab chimps are taken to an animal sanctuary in Blue Ridge, Georgia, where they have plenty of space to roam around and live a naturalistic lifestyle. As apes born in captivity, this is the closest they can get to a natural habitat where they can thrive.
Recently, Project Chimps allowed a group of 15 chimps (9 females, 6 males) to experience the outside world for the first time in their new Peachtree Habitat.
The chimps were split into gendered groups. Both were hesitant to make it outdoors, though the females got over their fears much faster than the males.
One male just kept standing in the doorway staring at the outside. Another, named Lance, came up from behind, pushed him out of the way, and decided he would be the first out.
Once the others noticed Lance dancing around outside, they decided it was safe to come out and join him.
While out and about, the apes searched for food, which their caretakers had scattered about the environment. They seemed to have a lot of fun outside.
One ape, named Bo, seemed scared at first, but luckily Lance was there to give him a reassuring hug.
Emma, who was initially hesitant about going out, enjoyed playing on the fire hose bridge.
Meanwhile Jason noticed human observers from the window and sought their attention by jumping, kicking, and throwing dirt.
Despite their initial hesitation, the males were outside for roughly 90 minutes whereas the females were only out for 45, according to myAJC.com. The males explored further too, although the females were still willing to venture out of their comfort zone.
Due to low temperatures, the chimps were unable to go out the next day. However Project Chimps plan to incorporate an outdoor rotation schedule soon. The ultimate goal of all this is to replicate the type of social structures these chimps would have in the wild.
Project Chimps wants to make sure they can exercise free will regarding who they associate with when in larger groups.
These are good skills to have as 20 additional chimps are expected to arrive during the first half of 2018. Soon there will be additional outdoor habitats to accommodate more chimps and give them more opportunities to explore.
Some might consider Project Chimps’s work to be monkey business (though it’s technically ape business) but it’s important to give these fascinating intelligent creatures a new lease on life.