| No more work: It’s time for fun
Shreveport, Louisiana, Nov. 6: As the first rays of sunlight filtered through the trees, chimpanzees emerged for their dawn patrol around the edge of a pond and began scavenging for fruit. Clutching their breakfast, some drifted into the woods; others sat and watched, warily.
It might have been a scene from the African jungle as man’s nearest genetic cousins performed their morning rituals. In fact, this was a remote corner of north-western Louisiana, where the US’s first government-funded retirement home for working chimps has recently opened.
Last week, Telegraph was granted rare access to the inhabitants of Chimp Haven as they adjusted to life in the semi-wild, after decades serving man’s needs in the space programme and in US medical research centres.
Those animals originally born in the wild in Africa have been quick to begin climbing trees and building nests, even though most were only a few months old when captured and shipped to America during the 1960s. The others, born in captivity, are slowly beginning to copy them.
Merv, 29, is among the latter, a nervous soul, heavily dependent on human contact. At one point, in a part of the sanctuary where the chimps are separated from their human carers by only a grate, he signalled to Amy Fultz, Chimp Haven’s primate behaviourist, that he wanted to play.
He stretched his fingers through the grate and pointed to her watch and ring, two sparkling objects that he likes to stroke. He has a particular fascination for red shoes.
“Each chimp is as individual as a person,” said Linda Brent, Chimp Haven’s president. “They all have their own likes and dislikes and Merv just happens to like red shoes.”
Conan, too, was born in captivity. Although his size and power would normally mark him out as a dominant male, the 19-year-old has proved to be scared of the woods and a bit of a cry baby ' which does not impress the others.
He appears smitten by Gay, 38, an African-born female, but she is often whisked off for a tryst in the trees by Jomoh, 41, leaving Conan whimpering as he gazes after them, too scared to follow.
Many of the chimps have never before enjoyed such moments of privacy and all the males were given vasectomies before being let loose in the sanctuary. During the newspaper’s visit, several females were ovulating and the chimps were clearly feeling frisky.
“I think Grandpa (one of the older residents) is getting it whenever he can,” said Linda Koebner, Chimp Haven’s vice-president. “It’s just great to see these chimps enjoying themselves after all they’ve done for us.”
Among several powerful matriarch figures are Rita and Teresa, veterans of Nasa’s breeding programme to put apes into space (no chimps that lifted off are still alive).
The two, who have known each other for more than 40 years since their capture in Africa, were among the first to start climbing trees. “Rita and Teresa are still great friends and hang out together.