Tale of the Cle Elum 7 chimpanzees: Hope. Love. Home. Sanctuary

[Article by Melissa Grant: North Bend resident, animal lover and pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]

When I set out to write about all the animals in the area, I expected to find elk, deer, bears, cougars and coyotes. What I didn’t know I’d find near the Snoqualmie Valley was chimpanzees.

Yes, you read that right, chimpanzees within an hour of the Snoqualmie Valley at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest near Cle Elum.

Commonly, chimpanzees do not live in Washington State, rather they live in a few areas across the middle of Africa. The once great rain forest, due to deforestation, has dwindled down from a solid belt of trees to a few scattered areas from the west coast into the western reaches of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

Chimpanzees are a member of the great ape family, which includes gorillas, orangutans, bonobos and humans. They share 98% of our genetic blueprint and along with bonobo’s, are our closest living relative. In fact, chimps are more closely related to human than to gorillas. Unfortunately, it is a harsh irony that what makes chimps so much like us also has made them valuable for scientific testing.

From the Sanctuary’s website:

“According to Project Chimp Care, there are currently 1,822 chimpanzees living in the United States. Of that number, 797 chimpanzees are in biomedical research facilities, and 65 are used for entertainment or kept as pets. There are 262 chimpanzees in AZA accredited zoos, 524 in sanctuaries that belong to the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, and 174 living in unaccredited facilities.

At Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW), we are working to ensure that the number of chimpanzees exploited in biomedical research and entertainment will decrease as more sanctuary space is created. At CSNW, we believe that the physical, psychological, and emotional needs of the chimpanzees come first.”

The sanctuary was founded in 2003 by Keith LaChapelle and is located on 68 acres 90 miles east of Seattle to “provide sanctuary for chimpanzees discarded from the entertainment and biomedical testing industries.” In 2008 Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Missy, Jody and Negra traveled from a laboratory in Pennsylvania to become the first residents of the sanctuary and are known as “The Cle Elum 7”. You can follow the Sanctuary’s blog and the chimps story from the beginning HERE.

I started following the Cle Elum 7 on Facebook a couple of years ago and always knew they were in a sanctuary, not a zoo, therefore not open to the public. Of course, being an animal lover I wanted to visit, but respected the fact that they didn’t want their lives disrupted negatively by too much attention. I was thrilled to learn that they started offering tours to donors in the summer months (July, August and September) of 2017. We registered online and one windy sunny Sunday went to visit the chimps.

You arrive right before the chimp’s lunch and the tour starts off in a creaky open barn, with a 30 minute introduction to the facility.  There is time to ask questions while the chimps’ lunch is scattered about their 2-acre outdoor enclosure for a forage.

Then you are lead to an area close to the enclosure where you can watch at a respectful distance while a sanctuary staff member continues to offer information and answer questions. We watched the seven go back and forth from their greenhouse to their enclosure with armloads of food.

Our guide Katelyn told us tales about Foxie’s troll dolls, Jamie’s cowboy boots and Burrito’s trials as the only male of the group.  I tried my best to get some good photos, but the wire fencing was a bit of an obstacle for this novice photographer.

We ended our visit in their small, but well stocked gift shop, next to the “best port-a-potty ever.” (You’ll get in on that joke if you donate and go visit). It was definitely worth the drive and the donation.

If a visit to the sanctuary doesn’t fit into your summer plans, you can help in many different ways. They are planning an expansion soon. You can simply mail them a check; sponsor a day; purchase from their store; become a chimpanzee pal; get a personalized stone; or visit their wish list on Amazon.

Visit their website or like them on Facebook for more information. You won’t be disappointed. Their blogs and videos are very informative and entertaining.

For further questions, please contact the sanctuary: donate@ChimpsNW.org or 509-699-0728. They would be happy to answer any of your questions about donating.

Enjoy some of Melissa’s photos from the chimp sanctuary below.


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