During my tenure here with Palm Beach Media Group, few stories have stuck with me more than Save the Chimps. My trip to the island sanctuary in Fort Pierce more than a year ago was at the same timeunexpected, paradoxically heartbreaking and heartwarming—and a lesson in compassion, something I will not soon forget. At the time of my visit, 263 chimpanzees called Save the Chimps home, making it the largest sanctuary of its kind anywhere. All chimpanzee residents have been rescued from research laboratories, the predatory pet trade or the exploitive entertainment industry and now live out their days on their own private island within family groups, as they do in the wild. The 150-acre, 12-island sanctuary lets the chimps lounge, run, play, fight, tinker and simply live. Its sole purpose is to let these animals live out the rest of their lives in peace.
For the longest time, a peek behind the Save the Chimps’ curtain was strictly off limits—it is not a zoo but more of a retirement community. The added stress of daily visitors intruding on the chimp’s territory is something founder Dr. Carol Noon and staff simply would not have. On my visit, the chimps were keenly aware of the trespasser. Although there is a large number of regular staff members and volunteer corps, numbers are limited and their faces are recognizable to the chimpanzees. As an outlier, I was eyed by the chimps with caution, curiosity or nonchalance.
Save the Chimps is an expensive sanctuary. Its annual food bill easily tops $400,000, while some chimps receive a cocktail of medications for a variety of ailments, such as heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and epilepsy. To connect the public with this cause in the hopes of raising funds, Save the Chimps will open its gates September 21 for the first time ever. The sanctuary will welcome members on premises for a guided tour—either by foot or bus—with staff discussing the sanctuary’s mission, talking about the family groups living on the islands and delving into the day-to-day lives of the chimps. The hour-long tour leading from island to island allows guests to observe the chimps enjoying their retirement years, see the good the sanctuary provides and perhaps come away with a better understanding of the challenges both Save the Chimps and chimpanzees not lucky enough to live on these islands still face.
- Membership costs $50 for adults. Tour size and time slots are limited, and reservations are required. To become a member and reserve a spot for Save the Chimp’s Member Day, call 772-429-2225, or visit savethechimps.org.
- The tour is a rain or shine event. There will be no contact with the chimpanzees, just observation. Photography will be permitted, and it is recommended to bring binoculars, wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen.
- For more information, visit savethechimps.org.