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Famous chimps among the newest residents at north Georgia sanctuary


They may be the most famous chimps in north Georgia.

Hercules and Leo, two of the newest residents at Project Chimps -- a 236-acre sanctuary for retired chimpanzees in the Blue Ridge Mountains -- arrived Wednesday to their forever home. 

Related: Former research chimps at North Georgia sanctuary go outdoors for the first time

Project Chimps is currently home to 40 retired chimpanzees. Hercules and Leo were among a group of nine who were most recently transported to Project Chimps from New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) at the University of Louisiana.

The two 11-year-old chimps first made headlines in 2013 when an animal rights organization filed a lawsuit seeking legal personhood for them.

Leo and Hercules had been held in captivity at (NIRC) until they were each a year old. In 2009, they were sent to the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University.

There in a basement laboratory, the chimps were part of a non-invasive study in which researchers inserted fine-wire electrodes into their muscles to learn how humans evolved to walk upright on two legs. 

The Nonhuman Rights Project filed a petition in New York State Supreme Court, Suffolk County to demand recognition of Hercules’ and Leo’s legal personhood and right to bodily liberty.

In July 2015, a New York judge dismissed that lawsuit.

A public advocacy campaign to remove the chimps from research followed, even gaining support from Dr. Jane Goodall. 

Six months after the lawsuit was dismissed, NIRC retired Leo and Hercules from research and they were returned to the Louisiana research facility.

When they arrived last week at Project Chimps after a 14-hour journey, they immediately began exploring the front porch of their new home and getting to know their new caregivers. 

Located on the site of a former gorilla sanctuary, Project Chimps is the newest chimpanzee sanctuary in the United States. 

The first chimps began arriving in 2016. In conjunction with NIRC, Project Chimps plans to move the remaining population of chimps to the sanctuary in phases.

While the sanctuary is not open to the public, they will be hosting “discovery days”  on May 19 - 20 when members of the public can take part in free educational activities and ticketed tours of the sanctuary.


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.