Normally. I’m too involved in my own monkey business to follow the lives of other primates. But luckily this is not true of my friend Dana Kleiman, who brought Chimp Haven to my attention as a worthy cause deserving of my support. Actually the conversation went more along the lines of, “I know you can’t stand animals, Betty, but these guys are so cute, they’ll melt even your frozen heart.”
Well, Dana was right. Chimp Haven is The National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission since 1995 has been to provide a lifetime home for chimpanzees who have been “retired” from a lifetime spent in thrall to science, entertainment or as a household pet. And it’s about an irresistible cause as you can imagine.
For one thing, Chimp Haven is primarily for chimps who have given their lives in service of medical science, meaning they’ve been infected with AIDS, hepatitis, diabetes and lots of other diseases, sacrificed to our need to understand and conquer the diseases which afflict us. Ironically, the reason we use chimpanzees in medical research is that they are so much like us in a myriad of uncanny ways.
Chimpanzees spend 60% of their time thinking about food. Check! They are omnivores and will eat almost anything. Check! They make nests out of soft stuff and love their babies. Check! They make great friendships and are profoundly social. Check! They laugh, play, and are territorial. Check! Even when they’ve been grossly maltreated they seem to seek only affection, and they are endangered and in need of our help. Oh…..okay.
Chimp Haven is located on 200 acres of land, donated by the state of Louisiana in Eddy Jones Nature Park, and is like the coolest retirement home ever – except it’s just for chimps. 100 great apes live here in harmony with nature, free to wander where they please after years of living in cages, being poked, prodded, injected and neglected. The chimps are called respectfully by their proper names, fed buckets of fresh produce and fruit every day, and entertained by a loving staff that is committed to keeping them engaged, free from depression and stimulated by fun activities like licking a frozen fruit pop through gate doors or painting freestyle on playgrounds outdoors.
I seriously hope my retirement years are spent with people who are so single-mindedly focused on my good time. And you can be a part of it!
As Dana says, “ When the folks at Chimp Haven first told me I was getting my own chimp, I was like – what marketing hype. I’m so much more sophisticated than that. But within a few days, I would be out shopping at Old Navy for my daughter Lucie and find myself thinking ‘Hey, what would Merv want here?’’”
Chimp Haven has that effect. Once you see these guys in action, it’s like walking into a poker game with the old coots from Oceans 12. No way are you not going to pull up a chair and ante up. My $100 is on the table and I’m in. Game on!