Former Research Chimp Celebrates a Big Birthday

Emily turns 57 at Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida.

Emily the chimp poses
Emily the chimp poses.

Save the Chimps

The oldest chimpanzee resident of Save the Chimps sanctuary is celebrating a big birthday. Emily is estimated to be turning 57 years old this month.

Emily was born in the wild, so her exact birthday and age aren’t known. But rescuers know a lot about her background.

“Emily was born in the wild but was captured, sold to a lab, and forced into a very different life,” Deanna Jenkins, section curator where Emily lives at Save the Chimps, tells Treehugger. 

Emily arrived at the Coulston Foundation—a biomedical research lab based in New Mexico—in May 1968 where she was used for an eye study and to test a drug. She was placed into the lab’s breeding program at the relatively young age of 7 years old and had her first baby two years later.

Emily had multiple stillbirths before having her second baby, Dwight, who stayed with her for five days before being sent to the nursery to be raised by human caregivers. She had another son, Ragan, who was with her for just a day.

Emily was rescued by Save the Chimps in 2001.

These days, Emily lives out her retirement playing adoptive grandmother to several babies that were born at Save the Chimps.

“She is very protective of Angie, a chimpanzee who Emily has cared for since birth. In Emily's eyes, Angie can do no wrong. Emily is loyal and caring and often spends time with her close friend Jennifer,” Jenkins says.

Emily has learned how to relax and enjoy her days at the sanctuary.

“Emily frequently enjoys bathing herself—she will get a mouth full of water and spit it all over her face like a fountain while wiping her face with her hands,” Jenkins says. “Emily also loves hammocks, napping, and coconuts.” 

About Save the Chimps

Emily the chimp has a snack
Emily has a snack.

Save the Chimps

Save the Chimps was created in 1997 in response to the U.S. Air Force’s decision to no longer use chimpanzees for research. The late Carole Noon sued the Air Force to gain custody of 21 chimps. The group eventually purchased 150 acres in Fort Pierce, Florida, and created a sanctuary where the animals could roam freely.

Just three months after the first rescued chimpanzees arrived, the Coulston Foundation offered to donate 266 chimpanzees and sell their laboratory land and buildings. Save the Chimp revamped the facilities to create a happier environment for the animals until they could eventually move them to the sanctuary in Florida.

Since the sanctuary’s creation, it has been home to more than 330 chimps. Most of the animals had lived alone in small cages most of their lives before coming to the sanctuary. Now, they live in 12 distinct family groups on a dozen different three-acre islands. Each family group has as many as 26 members. They can choose to roam freely, be social with other chimps, or hang out by themselves.

The chimps are fed three balanced meals each day that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables like bananas, oranges, and corn. The sanctuary feeds 1,150 bananas daily.

They have obstacles to climb on, hammocks to loll in, and toys to play with. Every day, chimps get all sorts of enrichment activities. Caregivers might cut a slit into a tennis ball and then fill it with sunflower seeds so that the chimps have to shake them to discover their treats. They also fill big tubs with non-toxic bubbles for the chimps to explore.

The chimps also receive medical care including preventative screenings to find and treat problems early.

It’s this environment of healthy food and medical treatment, social groups, and enrichment that Save the Chimps believes has helped Emily live so long.

“Chimps in the wild routinely live to their mid-40s. In captivity, Emily is able to have proper nutrition and veterinary care—which accounts for her, and other chimpanzees’ longevity,” primatologist Andrew Halloran, Save the Chimps director of chimpanzee behavior and care, tells Treehugger.

“Emily was wild-caught as an infant and her welfare would obviously have been better served had she not been captured and used for experiments in a lab.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Emily the 1st." Save the Chimps.

  2. "Our History." Save the Chimps.

  3. "Chimp Life." Save the Chimps.

  4. "Let's Talk Enrichment." Save the Chimps. Published July 15, 2021.