Chimp Sanctuary Is Home To Dozens Of Chimps

It's 8:00 in the morning and care-takers are alerting their residents it's time to come inside.

When the chimps finally clear out, I get a sneak-peak at their five acre habitat. It's feeding time, so the first thing we have to do is hide the watermelon and snack mix all over the habitat. As we're putting out the food, Amy Fultz, one of the centers' behaviorists, takes a detour to show me something.

"They've actually taken this evergreen, and they've bent it around the nest. They take some of the pine needles, and they put it in there to make it kind of cushy," says Fultz.

It's a nest, built by one of the wild-born chimps. Amy's hope is that over time, those chimps will teach the ones born in captivity to do the same thing.

When the chimps reenter their habitat, they quickly find the hidden treats. They're extremely social animals, traveling in groups and sticking very close to one another. Watching them is absolutely fascinating.

A big part of everyday life here is training. Amy will ask one of the chimps to put his hand up, and he'll quickly respond.They do it so the veterinarians can give the chimps a check-up without sedating them so often. The chimps love it because they get treats like bananas and juice.

Chimps spend 60 or 70 percent of their lives hunting and foraging for food. To simulate that, Colony Manager Kathleen Candito says the center uses enrichment activities like these boards filled with dried cranberries.

"We want to make them work for their food for a bit, because they enjoy it, and they get a lot out of it," says Candito.

Turning Chimp Haven from dream to reality took 11 years and 15 million dollars, and they're not finished. They hope to have Phase II completed later this year.

150 chimps are waiting on that, so they can retire to the sanctuary, and who can blame them? With acres of tall trees, and an abundance of food and friends, it's a place any chimp would go 'ape' for.

The center will be open for the public the 2nd Saturday of every month from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Admission is free but donations are appreciated.

Lindsay Wilcox/Reporting: