Heard on Campus: Cathy Willis Spraetz, CEO of Chimp Haven

January 13, 2015

"Everyone one of them is so different, so unique, just like all of us."

— Cathy Willis Spraetz, president and CEO of Chimp Haven, during her presentation, "Chimpanzees in Captivity: From Research to Retirement," at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on Jan. 13. Chimp Haven is a Louisiana-based independent nonprofit organization dedicated to providing care for more than 200 chimpanzees that have been used for biomedical research or other purposes.

"Many of these chimpanzees have spent literally decades in laboratories. And so their experience has been concrete and mesh, not grass, not dirt. And so after decades of being there, coming to Chimp Haven is a novel experience and a very scary one. Many of them do not want to put their feet down on grass or dirt. They just feel more protected in a smaller environment that they're used to and concrete on the bottom. We try to accommodate the chimpanzees and meet them where they are. The good news is that many of them, after a couple of years, actually can transition. But in the meantime, we give them a lot of different spaces so they can feel comfortable where they are."

"They actually laugh. They cry and scream. They have temper tantrums. They show fear, excitement, jealousy. They can identify themselves in a mirror. They yawn empathetically and show forgiveness. And they are much better at showing forgiveness than we are, actually. And they have over 30 recognized vocalizations." 

"Chimpanzees were never meant to be pets. They're wild, unpredictable, can be extremely aggressive, territorial ... we always tell people chimpanzees are not good pets. When you see pictures of chimpanzees in greeting cards, please don't buy those. Or in videos, don't look at those. Because those are baby chimps and that's a fear grimace. Chimpanzees when they grin don't look like that."

"Unfortunately, captive chimps cannot go back in the wild. ... A strange chimp being introduced in the wild where there's an established group would mean they would most likely be killed. They don't have any natural predators in captivity, so they wouldn't know who those predators were, so they could not protect themselves."

"It's really important to understand what it costs to provide care for chimpanzees. The care cost for one chimpanzee that's owned by the federal government — remember they pay for 75 percent — we have to pay $4,500 a year. So we have 197 federally-owned chimpanzees. The rest are private. So multiply that by 4,500 and that gives you an idea. And then our private chimps ... cost $18,000 a year."

Last Updated January 13, 2015