By Paula Muellner

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

I was disheartened to read the recent news article published from The Bulletin on Dec. 21 “OSHA report notes violent chimp attacks at Tumalo sanctuary.” As the former executive director of the sanctuary, I know that the sanctuary has always been transparent with local media and the community, opening its door to let people see the facility and chimpanzees. At no point were concerns for their safety or the welfare of the chimpanzees ever brought up.

With the long history that The Bulletin has with the nonprofit organization, it is unfortunate that it left out some of the most important aspects to the sanctuary. For instance, the fact the sanctuary has no prior U.S. Department of Agriculture citations or Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations. Moreover, the sanctuary absolutely exceeds the minimum enclosure requirements set by USDA, which only requires chimpanzees to have access to a cage that is 5’x5’x7’. To put this into perspective, consider that an adult male chimpanzee (about 4 or 5 feet tall) would have only enough room to stand up and take a step or two in any direction.

Instead, Chimps Inc. provides more room per chimpanzee than most sanctuaries and zoos in the country. The chimps are given incredibly spacious enclosures with access to three outdoor play yards. The largest of these enclosures is nearly 1 acre with a climbing structure that allows the chimpanzees to jump and climb more naturally. The sanctuary also has two large indoor habitats, which the chimps are always given access to. Their one indoor house is a 2,200 square foot, two-level building with an expansive vaulted ceiling and heated floors.

The sanctuary also goes above and beyond USDA minimum requirements in providing for the emotional and psychological needs of the chimpanzees via their enrichment program. Under the current USDA recommendations, a facility’s interpretation of enrichment, for example, could be a single piece of cardboard to manipulate. Chimps Inc. provides daily environmental enrichment offering, climbing ropes, swings, platforms, a simulated termite mound, puzzles and various other toys. The chimpanzees are maneuvered in family groups where they can groom each other, play and interact as a chimpanzee family group would.

People are use to seeing the playful Hollywood version of a chimpanzee, and they think that they are just cute, hairy iterations of humans. They fail to understand that they are not simply big people, but they are incredibly strong, socially complex, intelligent beings. The welfare of the animals is measured in a variety of ways, and we must not forget that Chimps Inc. exceeds in so many of these areas.

The sanctuary was started on the love and dedication of founder Lesley Day to provide a lifetime home for captive chimpanzees that were rescued from the pet and entertainment industry. Regardless of their recent citations, they remain dedicated to overcoming abuse and cruelty that captive chimpanzees face in the United States. The sanctuary is committed to fixing the violations and adopting stronger standards.

My hope is that this article will provide a different perspective — a perspective from someone who worked there for almost eight years and understands the intricacies of running a chimpanzee sanctuary.

I hope that the Central Oregon community and the animal advocacy groups will fight to keep the sanctuary open, and stand with them without judgment.

The chimpanzees deserve to stay home, in Tumalo.

— Paula Muellner lives in Portland.