Chimp sanctuary

Diana Goodrich, outreach director of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, visiting one of the chimps in the outdoor greenhouse at the sanctuary. The chimps were able to go back out to their two-acre enclosure, which was damaged in the Taylor Bridge Fire, three days later. (Oliver Lazenby / Daily Record)

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An hour after the Taylor Bridge Fire started on Aug. 13, flames were licking the edges of the property at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, said Diana Goodrich, director of outreach at the sanctuary. The chimp sanctuary is just a mile east of the Taylor Bridge, where the Taylor Bridge Fire began, and was almost immediately in its path. 

The sanctuary’s seven chimps have had a hard life — they have endured decades of living in cages and being used for biomedical testing. But fire was a new experience. 

Part of the chimps’ two-acre outdoor enclosure burned, damaging fence posts and charring grass and logs. J.D. Mulcahy, director of operations at the sanctuary, fixed the fence and removed hazards from the enclosure, which opened September 2011, and the chimps are now back outside. 

Q: How much warning did you have about the fire?

My husband and I saw the fire under the bridge. We were going to go on a hike and drove down there and saw the fire before it was really huge. We knew that it was going to be a problem. He called the staff at the sanctuary and told them to bring the chimps inside and close all the windows and doors and start watering all around the chimp house as a precautionary measure. I put our pets in carriers and started watering around our own house, which is at the sanctuary. 

I think it was within an hour that it got here. We watched the flames go up the ridge behind the sanctuary. The trees were burning all around it and there was so much smoke, it was hard to tell where the fire was. And then we saw flames on our neighbor’s property. 

Q: How did the chimps handle it?

They were very, very quiet, which is kind of unusual for chimps. They were still and, I think, trying to take cues from J.B., my husband, who stayed with them during the fire. He was just reassuring them and trying to maintain the routine. He fed them dinner shortly after the fire passed. Routine is important for them. Our theory is that if it’s a threat they understand, then they get really loud and they have a vocalization called an alarm bark, which alerts everyone to the danger. But I don’t think they had ever experienced fire before, so they didn’t know how to react to it. 

Q: How much damage did the fire do to the sanctuary?

About half of our two-acre enclosure was charred. It was just pasture grass that burned. A couple of the fence posts were damaged. J.D. fixed the fence and the chimps went out. 

They were very excited when they realized they were going to go out. We have a big indoor building for them and a large outdoor cage that we call the greenhouse, and that’s where they stayed for two weeks after the fire. 

Our well was damaged. When we first turned it on it just smelled like burnt plastic. I guess one of the pipes had melted. We sent a sample to the Department of Health and it has no bacteria, so we just had to flush (it) out and eventually it got better. The water is fine now. 

Q: Is fire something you were prepared for?

We knew it was a risk in this area. There was a fire about four years ago close by that didn’t spread very far, so we were prepared. For the chimp house we had some fire prevention strategies and we will now have more. Our director of operations met with somebody from the Firewise and did a tour.

That gave us some ideas for things that we will implement for future protection.

We learned a lot. And really, we were lucky. This house would have been gone if it weren’t for the helicopters. They dropped probably five buckets of water on it. 

Q: Are you taking donations?

We are taking donations now. We didn’t know what our costs would be in the beginning, and we still don’t have a good assessment of that because of the well issue. We’re going to be putting some money into fire prevention. We do run off of individual donations, so any little donation helps. We are also really grateful for the local community. 

We got a lot of donated water almost immediately once people knew we needed it. Produce, too, which is really nice because we lost power for a couple of days so we had to throw out a bunch of produce. 

We don’t need bottled water anymore. We always need produce, so gift cards to Safeway are really helpful. We did use some of the money from donations to upgrade the roof on the caregiver’s house. 

Q: What was life like for the chimps before coming to the sanctuary?

Buckshire Corp., who owned them, gave us some of their files but they pulled a lot of information out that they considered proprietary, so we don’t know all of the research experiments they were used in. We do know they were used in hepatitis vaccine testing. They were given hepatitis vaccines and then had a lot of liver biopsies to see how the vaccines behaved in their bodies.

We also know that all of the girls except for Jamie were used for breeding. Jodie, for example, her records indicate that she had nine babies, some of them taken from her within hours of birth. We know that some of them, prior to their history in biomedical experiments, were used in entertainment. Jamie was owned by a trainer. We really don’t know what she was used for. It could have been a roadside zoo or something like that, but she definitely was acculturated into human culture and she has a lot of human behavior. At 9 years old, her trainer sold her into research. 

They lived in cages. We have one that came directly from Buckshire. That particular one is 5-by-5-by-3 feet, I think. The regulations changed in the ‘90s and the minimum cage size increased by 2 square feet. 

Q: What other countries use chimps for biomedical testing?

Right now it’s only the United States and Gabon, in Africa. There’s a bill in Congress that would outlaw the use of chimps in experimentation in the U.S. I think the law will pass. It will probably take a few years but it has pretty good momentum. There are a lot of current congressional representatives who are supporting it, including Maria Cantwell. 

Q: Why shouldn’t chimps be used for testing?

Basically, once you get to know them I think the majority of people would understand immediately just how similar they are to us. They experience life in a similar way and they experience pain. They really rely on their social relationships, so putting them in isolation, which is done when they’re on protocols, is probably the worst part of the whole thing. They rely on routine and not knowing what is going to come day to day is really frightening. 

They’re very resilient which I think is why they’ve been used so readily. Sort of like humans, you can put them in a basement for years and years and they will still survive. They’re not going to perish but they will mentally suffer from it.


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