Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Observe Chimps in the Wild—Without a Passport!

I don't want to brag, but I have some really cool writer friends. They're part of my tribe and I love hearing about their projects and celebrating their success with them. Today's guest post is by Dana Colecchia Getz, one of the fine writers in my monthly writing group, Writers at Work. She was asked to attend a program put on by Project Chimps and kindly agreed to write a blog post for me. I thought the GG community would enjoy learning more.

Crystal Alba/Project Chimps

For years, chimpanzees were used in invasive experimentation. Studies ranged from crash tests to HIV testing. Some chimps, like Hercules and Leo, spent their days forced to unnaturally walk upright with electrodes embedded into their muscles. 

Now Hercules, Leo, and 79 other chimpanzees formerly living in research labs are able to spend their days foraging, climbing, and playing in a natural, 236-acre forested setting. Project Chimps, a chimpanzee sanctuary set in the Georgian Blue Ridge Mountains, has become their forever home. 2015 marked the end of invasive experimentation on chimpanzees in the United States leaving chimps living in private research facilities with no place to go. Project Chimps stepped in to help by slowly transferring the primates to their sanctuary in 2016, with the goal of eventually housing 200 chimpanzees. 

Crystal Alba/Project Chimps
As they continue expanding the habitat for more chimps, they are broadening opportunities for humans as well. Although not generally open to the public, Project Chimps offers a variety of tours and volunteer-based ecotourism for animal and nature lovers of all ages. With the insight of a trained guide throughout the experiences, visitors are able to observe the chimps from platforms and windowed sections of wall along the perimeter of the habitat. It is important to remember, however, that unlike a zoo, the animals are free to explore as they want, which means visitors on a short tour cannot be guaranteed a sighting—although that is rare. According to Project Chimps director Ali Crumpaker, “They are not on exhibit. They are not there for your entertainment. We tell people all of the time—you are putting on the parade. You are part of the show. You are bringing something to them and if they are interested in what you bring to the environment, they will come and watch you.”

The goal of the sanctuary is to create a “fission-fusion society” where the physical environment supports their transition from lab to a more natural setting. In most labs, the chimpanzees were separated by age and gender. Here, for the first time, they can choose how they spend their day and with whom they interact. Visitors and volunteers have the unique opportunity to observe them as they navigate these new social structures as they would in the wild. 

If you are looking for a socially-conscious trip, consider visiting Project Chimps.They are certified by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries, ensuring the highest standards of animal care are upheld. Located only two hours outside of Atlanta, their tours offer a unique opportunity within the United States that many would be unable to experience otherwise. 

“You don’t need a passport, or a visa, or an expensive plane trip to go experience some creatures that are so close to us in a way that enriches the chimpanzees’ lives and educates the humans’ lives all at the same time,” explained Crumpaker.

Project Chimps

Project Chimps Ecotourism/Voluntourism Opportunities

Family-friendly Experiences: 

Discovery Days, Chimps Rock! and Chimp-or-Treat. (Plan ahead for Discovery Days, as they sell out months in advance.)

Chimpcation- a week long voluntourism opportunity better suited to adults and older kids who can be more actively involved.  
Spring Brachiate- an alternative spring break program, for college kids.

Full-day photography workshop 
AirBnb Experiences- 2 hour guided tour or tour with introduction to beekeeping

Dana Colecchia Getz is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer specializing in travel, parenting, and social change. She is the recipient of a regional Jefferson Award for Public Service for her work as the founder of KnitHope, a grassroots craftivism project. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including The Christian Science Monitor, Go World Travel, Livability.com, The Sunlight Press and Mamalode. You can follow her musings on Twitter @DanaCGetz.

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