The World's Best Retirement Plan (for Chimpanzees)


When older Americans retire, they can look forward to Social Security checks. But when chimpanzees hit that golden age, they can look forward to Chimp Haven, the world's greatest primate retirement home.

Built on 200 acres of forest in northwestern Louisiana, Chimp Haven features outdoor playgrounds with jungle gyms, plenty of pristine forest to romp through, and full-time veterinary care.

Why build this incredible sanctuary? For decades, the United States has boasted some of the best research centers in the world. But by the mid-1990s, those centers had produced a strange side effect—a population of roughly 1,800 aging chimpanzees.

With the emergence of DNA imaging and computer technology, fewer labs relied on animal testing, and a lot of chimps were left without jobs. Zoos weren't an option because they stay fully stocked, but the chimps couldn't be released into the wild, either. After years in captivity, they wouldn't be able to fend for themselves. Plus, scientists were worried that the chimps might infect the wild populations with whatever diseases they'd been given in the labs.

In 1997, the National Institutes of Health came up with an elegant solution—to create a network of chimp sanctuaries across America. This prompted the creation of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act, which allocated $30 million to care for captive chimpanzees and build them a retirement home. Amazingly, the Senate passed the act unanimously. Today, Chimp Haven houses as many as 125 chimpanzees at a time. Although most of them are former research subjects, the retirement home has become a sanctuary for former pets and entertainers, as well.

This article was written by Linda Rodriguez and originally appeared as part of our May-June 2010 cover story, "The United States of Amazing." We'll be excerpting a few more stories from that piece throughout the day.

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