La. sanctuary gives chimps first chance to live outside cages

Chimp Haven sanctuary gives chimpanzees their first chance to live outside cages.
CBS News

(CBS News) KEITHVILLE, La. -- Scientists have recommended phasing out most of the chimpanzees in government research labs. More than 400 chimpanzees would be retired from research and could be moved to a sanctuary outside Shreveport, La., called Chimp Haven. Linda Brent created it after working with government chimps at a laboratory.

Linda Brent
Linda Brent CBS News

Brent says the experience bothered her.

"That's what spurs people on to do great things, and so I think that is very true for me," she says.

The 200-acre sanctuary gives the chimps their first chance to live outside cages.

"We want to give chimpanzees opportunities like they would have if they were wild chimps in Africa," Brent says. "To be able to replicate those kinds of environments and behaviors you have to give them space, you have to give them opportunities, and you have to give them the opportunity to have a lot of social partners."

NIH lab chimpanzee retirees arrive at "Chimp Haven" in Louisiana
113 research chimps to be sent to La. sanctuary

Chimpanzees have been used in U.S. labs since the 1920s. They have been important for the development of vaccines and understanding diseases, including hepatitis and AIDS. But advances in computer and lab technologies make large numbers of chimps unnecessary. Just 50 could be kept for the possibility of new research.

"I want the chimpanzees here to have freedom of choice," Brent says. "And that's something I think we are able to give the chimpanzees at Chimp Haven."

The next challenge will be the cost. Chimp Haven already needs to raise $5 million for an expansion. It will cost millions more to care for all the chimps, but Linda Brent figures it's a debt they are owed.

For more information on Chimp Haven, visit its website.