Chimpanzee ‘Actors’ Find Reprieve at Lincoln Park Zoo

February 11, 2020

The zoo's West Gate

When Wildlife Waystation, an unaccredited wildlife facility in California, closed in August 2019, more than 40 chimpanzees were left in need of long-term care. Lincoln Park Zoo is proud to share that Regenstein Center for African Apes will be home to two of the chimpanzees, Eli and Susie, beginning this spring.

“A group of zoo and sanctuary experts has worked for months to determine rehoming options for the large number of Wildlife Waystation chimpanzees,” says Erika Fleury, of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA). “We are happy that Eli and Susie will receive the high-quality care, appropriate social integration, and lifetime support they deserve at Lincoln Park Zoo.”

Eli, an 11-year-old male, and Susie, a 13-year-old female, were both trained performers prior to their move to Wildlife Waystation, having appeared in music videos, advertisements, and movies. Like other chimpanzees trained for entertainment, they were deemed unsuitable for such work after just a few short years, despite most chimpanzees living for many decades.

Eli, left, and Susie, right, at Wildlife Waystation.

“Chimpanzees are resilient animals but also very socially and emotionally complex,” says Stephen Ross, Ph.D., director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. “Our past research has shown the detrimental effects of chimpanzees in entertainment and other inappropriate settings—not only on the welfare of individuals, but on conservation efforts—so we owe it to these chimpanzees to provide them the best possible life from here on out.”

For the last 16 years, the zoo’s Fisher Center has been dedicated to the advanced knowledge of primate behavior and cognition, promotion of positive welfare for primates, and great ape conservation.

In 2007, Ross created Project ChimpCare, which began with a nationwide census to find every chimpanzee in the United States and went on to facilitate efforts to rehome former pet and performing chimpanzees to accredited sanctuaries and zoos. Working with other stakeholders in 2015, Project ChimpCARE also played a role in enhancing protections for chimpanzees in the United States by including them as species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“We’ve come very far in advancing protections for chimpanzees but there is still a lot of work to be done,” says Ross. “Whether its managing protected areas in Africa to preserve wild populations, or collaborating with the zoo and sanctuary community in the United States to help chimpanzees in need in this country, this species deserves our support.”

Pending a careful and successful introduction, Eli and Susie will join the multi-male, multi-female non-breeding group led by adult males Hank and Optimus.

The zoo looks forward to welcoming both Eli and Susie this spring!