BY PATIENCE COLLIER, Assistant News Editor
On August 28th, the final residents of the Chimpanzee and Human Communications Institute left campus for the last time.
Tatu and Loulis, who were brought to Central by CHCI, were at the center of a controversy that spanned much of last year. After a long debate over whether they would be able to stay on campus, Friends of Washoe, the non-profit group who owns the chimpanzees, found a home for them at the Fauna Foundation, a sanctuary in Quebec.
When Dar, one of the last chimpanzees, passed away last year, the university had a difficult decision to make. Chimpanzees normally live in large troops and being in groups smaller than five can be very unhealthy for them, according to the outside experts consulted by the university. Kirk Johnson, dean of the College of Sciences, said that the team of researchers university president James Gaudino assigned talked to experts from all over to determine the best course of action.
It would have cost $1.9 million to make the necessary renovations to the CHCI facility to bring in more chimpanzees, funding that would have come from the state budget.
The final decision was made by Friends of Washoe, who has maintained financial responsibility for the chimpanzees since 1983 . In a statement released May 29, Friends of Washoe said they would be moving the chimpanzees to a sanctuary, rather than make them wait multiple months for the state budget to determine their fate.
Johnson said he understood the decision by Friends of Washoe, and would likely have made the same call.
“The university was going to take more time than was good for their mental and physical health,” Johnson said.
Several students who had worked with the chimpanzees spoke out over the course of the year, asking for more support to keep the chimpanzees at Central. Johnson agreed that the situation could have been avoided if there had been a plan in place earlier.
“I think it would’ve been handled a lot better if we’d thought about it back when Dar died, or even before then,” Johnson said.
Students currently studying in the primate Behavior program will not be academically effected by the loss of the chimpanzees, according to Mary Lee Jensvold, the director of CHCI.
“For the graduate students who are coming out for research, there’s data,” Jensvold said. “It’s important to me that the data be maintained so we can access it.”
There could be some complications with the data, according to Johnson, though he clarified that there was enough uncontested data to ensure the program would have no trouble continuing.
“The only thing I know that is going to be hard to resolve is who owns the data sets. Some belongs to Central, some belongs to Friends of Washoe,” Johnson said.
Jensvold said she was not yet sure where on the campus the program would be, but the classes would continue to be offered.
The loss of the physical presence of Tatu and Loulis does not mean the end of university contact with them or interest in their mental or physical well being. Jensvold said she intends to keep up with the chimpanzees.
“I’m in regular contact, and have two graduate students in the Primate Behavior program who are there,” Jensvold said.
The two students, who are supported by a grant, will remain at the Fauna Foundation to collect data on how the transition is going. The sanctuary has had a connection to Central and CHCI in the past.
The founder, Gloria Grow, visited CHCI before she began building the Fauna Foundation, and the facilities at the sanctuary are based on the design at CHCI.
The Fauna Foundation’s approach to managing the chimpanzees’ social interactions also played a part in the selection of the Fauna Foundation for Tatu and Loulis’ new home.
“A lot of places, Tatu and Loulis would have had to sink or swim – to integrate with the whole group, or to be a problem,” Jensvold said. “The chimpanzees there are not always together; the subgroupings are fluid.”
This was an important feature. It can be difficult to integrate chimpanzees into unfamiliar groups, which has been a major concern in the decision to move the chimpanzees out of CHCI. According to Jensvold, Tatu and Loulis have already begun to form relationships and settle into their new home.
“We know one thing – they’ll eventually integrate into a family that allows them the communication and interaction they sorely needed,” Johnson said.