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Cwu and The Issue of Chimpanzee Captivity 

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Animal captivity has been controversial due to ethical concerns. Primates are a common contender for animal testing based on their similarity to humans. Due to human causes, these primates have needed to seek rehabilitation. At Central Washington University (CWU) overtime there has been two different Chimpanzee facilities. Firstly, there was the Chimpanzee and Humans Communication Institute (CHCI), which for years they have brought in primates specifically for research and educational purposes. Overtime that institute came to an end, and the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW) became housed with Chimpanzees in 2008. Through unraveling and piecing the details of CWU’s Chimpanzee facilities, we can determine whether animal captivity is ethical.

The Chimpanzee and Humans Communication Institute (CHCI) was located on CWU’s campus. The primates that the institute acquired were “cross-fostered by humans” (Tweed 42). They conducted American Sign Language research between humans and chimpanzees. They obtained this communication skill from “their human caregivers”. They studied their behavior and would research how these primates interact with each other. In 1981, they housed five chimpanzees who were used as their research subjects. The CHCI was “designed to facilitate captive care and research with chimpanzees in a non-invasive, caring, and humane manner” (Tweed 41). Dr. Mary Lee Jensvold defined the CHCI institute as blending “husbandry, science, and a humane approach”. The CHCI institute displayed positive qualities.

Firstly, a positive attribute was that students were given “access to primates on campus at CHCI” this “allowed students to learn both care techniques and research skills without having to leave the area”. Therefore humans learned more about primates and how they could adequately research them. Another positive attribute was that these primates dietary, social and object use needs were sufficiently met. The chimpanzees were given three meals a day, and were provided with objects and social enrichment (Fuentes et al. 224). “The chimpanzees’ facility consists of an outdoor enclosure, two indoor exercise rooms, and a night enclosure…The enclosures are furnished with a variety of structural enrichment items” (ibid, 224). This primate institution would create scientific breakthroughs and knowledge surrounding chimpanzee. Though there were positive attributes for the chimpanzees at the CHCI, there were also negative attributes as well.

One negative attribute about CHCI was that the most primates this institution contained was five chimpanzees (Matarese 2013, 3). “In captivity, it is important that these primate species are housed with conspecifics, and that the group size is representative of what it might be in the wild” (Tweed 8). These Chimpanzees were also made to be subjects in behavioral research projects. For example, on a small group of chimpanzees at CHCI they recorded conflict and post-conflict behavior. They collected data for over 6-weeks to measure behavior patterns in primates before and after conflict. The main purpose of the CHCI was for educational and research purposes. “CHCI was built expressly with the intention of hosting educational programs in addition to conducting important research” (Tweed 46). These negative impacts soon would get worse creating what would soon be an end for the CHCI.

Though the CHCI was an important part of CWU, it had to eventually come to be discontinued in 2013 (Tweed 2). When “Dar” one of CWU’s Chimpanzees passed away, it struck a population issue for the CHCI. This death “reduced the population to two”. This strikes an issue, because they reside in a group of 100 or more chimpanzees in the wild. During the height of the institute, which was completed in 1993, they accommodated to five chimpanzees. Chimpanzees living amongst a small group is not an actual representation of their natural habitat. When in a small group or singly contained primates tend to display “self-injurious behaviors, and even signs of depression”. Dar’s death struck a conflict where a decision between acquiring more primates for the institute, or having to relocate the primates were the only options (Matarrese 4). Unfortunately affording new primates was too difficult, therefore CWU had to send their primates to the Fauna Foundation Sanctuary in Canada. After this unfortunate outcome a new Chimpanzee habitat would come to be.

In 2008, the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW) became home to seven Chimpanzees. The CSNW is located in Cle Elum Washington. An aim for the CSNW “is to provide a high standard of care that facilitates an enriched and fulfilling captive life for these animals that they may not have had in their former situations.”  “Educational outreach” was another aim for this sanctuary. This aim was so they could provide a place where students or civilians could learn more about these primates from a distance.

The primates housed at CSNW had an unfortunate past. At the CSNW “these seven chimpanzees spent nearly three decades in biomedical research. They were owned by a biomedical research laboratory in Pennsylvania that leased the chimpanzees out to other research facilities” where they were housed separately and vaccinated by scientists (Tweed 1). This was so us humans could make scientific breakthroughs in biomedical research. “These chimpanzees were subjected to daily rounds of blood draws, injections, liver biopsies, and other procedures”. They as well were breeded and mothers were “forced to have babies… taken away…at birth”. They eventually were retired and were released to the CSNW, where rehabilitation of these primates is a substantial goal. “Primates became the subjects of choice in the 1950s when it became urgent for research to develop a vaccine for polio”. Primates became the ideal test subject of choice “because of their similarity to humans”. These chimpanzees are released to the sanctuary. These chimpanzees “still require intensive care and monitoring before, during, and after release to ensure they are not carrying and spreading diseases they may have acquired in captivity, or because they are more susceptible to disease as a result of the captive experience”. They also struggle with lingering behavioral issues that occur due to this treatment they underwent.

These laboratories cause negative behavioral issues and inflict the well-being of primates (Zhang 1). When a young primate is taken away from its parent it can already start to develop issues at a young age. This circumstance causes the newborn “total isolation” because it is left by itself in a cage without any contact with its mother and other primates. This isolation causes “abnormal posturing and movements… motivational disturbances, such as excessive fearfulness or arousal… poor integration of motor patterns, such as inadequate sexual behavior… deficiencies in social communication, such as failure to withdraw after being threatened by an aggressing animal”. Therefore laboratories taking these primates away from their mother can create substantial isolation and consequences that are driven from isolation. Though these primates now exhibited numeral issues prior, their new home conditions are much different.

The CSNW is run by staff and student volunteers or interns from CWU who help out around the sanctuary (Tweed 107). This sanctuaries biggest task is to manage “the quality of life” of the chimpanzees and to have their staff intensively monitors these primates. They also are provided with essentials, for example, their “dietary, physical, mental, and environmental needs”. These chimpanzees are also are housed in a way where they can interact socially with one another. Caregivers also “take walks with them when they go, not intrude on their social activities with one another”. It’s also important for them to provide a space where these primates have an indoor enclosure and an outdoor enclosure. Animal welfare is an important aspect of a sanctuary, because it “drives and is directly linked to funding, donor relations, staffing and volunteers, and daily sanctuary operations”. Overall this CSNW is nicely operated, it also has positive attributes to it as well.

Firstly, one positive aspect of the CSNW is that they “engage in educational outreach without compromising the welfare of the residents” (Tweed iii). This provides more knowledge of welfare, or humane treatment for chimpanzee. Students also benefit from the sanctuary by getting the perks of learning about the primates from afar. These chimpanzees as stated earlier, are accommodated with an indoor enclosure, as well as an outdoor habitat. This sanctuary as stated earlier also prevents the spread of diseases by keeping the primates in the pacific northwest. This is because they care for the well-being of the animals that could acquire the disease, and the primates from the biomedical laboratories health. Another positive aspect is that human caregivers may also interact with the chimpanzees for stimulation and engagement purposes. Tweed states that the sanctuary can be defined as “a place of refugee and protection”. These primates “dietary, physical, mental, and environmental needs” are met as well. These Chimpanzees “have more space, more agency, and they have had time to overcome some of the trauma of their pasts”. These Primates also have dealt with issues regarding the CSNW.

Unfortunately the CSNW has flaws as well. The CSNW houses seven chimpanzees. As stated above chimpanzees typically live in a social group of more than 100 primates. ”Captive animals…do not experience an array of social interactions as they would in the wild” (Tweed 9). Another negative aspect about the CSNW, is that they undergo research on these primates, which it wasn’t originally meant for however the research is strictly observational. Though research can be flawed, the research these primates undergo at the CSNW is “non-invasive”. An example of this research includes assessing “the effects of groups of visitors on the individual chimpanzees”.

Through what has been stated about the CHCI, and the CSNW, we can determine if it was ethical to confine these primates. When we compare the CHCI and the CSNW, we can determine they are slightly similar yet have one huge differing factor. These similarities include housing a small quantity of chimpanzees, having an indoor and outdoor space for the chimpanzees, educational outreach and they both tried to supply the chimpanzees to meet their needs. Though these facilities have similarities, the different goals of each facility creates curiosity about if one of these facilities is more ethically structured than the other. The CHCI was driven by student opportunity and scientific research. Meanwhile the CSNW was driven to rehabilitate and create a habitat for these primates that had a biomedical background.

Although there are people that believe animal captivity is unethical under all circumstances, it is evident that viewpoint is heavily flawed. There are certain ethical obligations that an animal housing facility should pledge to be considered principled. For example, the CSNW took in Chimpanzees from a biomedical laboratory and set their goals to rehabilitate and recover them. An example of an unethical animal captivity facility is the CHCI. This facility took cross-fostered primates and made them into test subjects for the benefit of science and students on campus. Therefore it can be seen that animal captivity can be ethical when certain obligations are made and acted on.

As a result of piecing these documents together and comparing them, it is clear that in this case animal captivity is ethical when certain obligations are set and stone. There’s a difference between helping another species for their good, and using another species for your own advantage. Through these observations it is clear that the CHCI was unethical. However, the CSNW primate captivity is ethical. It’s the goals of each funded facility that makes a huge difference. It’s not the small details and similarities, because for the CSNW it goes beyond the educational outlook, the scientific observations, it’s all about the welfare of these Chimpanzees. 


  1. Fuentes, Agustin, et al. “Conflict and Post-Conflict Behavior in a Small Group of Chimpanzees.” Primates, vol. 43, no. 3, July 2002, pp. 223–235., doi:10.1007/bf02629650.
  2. Matarrese, Andy. “Decision Looms on Future of CWU Chimps.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 21 Apr. 2013,
  3. Tweed, Lisa, ‘The Challenges for a Closed-to-the-Public Animal Sanctuary: Prioritizing animal welfare while engaging in educational community outreach’ (2019). All Master’s Theses. 1220.
  4. Zhang, Bo. “Consequences of Early Adverse Rearing Experience(EARE) on Development: Insights from Non-Human Primate Studies.” Zoological Research, Science Press, 18 Jan. 2017,           

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