By Nicole Rivard

When care staff at Primarily Primates introduced chimpanzee Baxter into a new, expansive green space for the first time, it was everything they dreamed of and more.

“It was such a special experience to watch him to try out every single climbing structure that he possibly could. He made such happy vocalizations while looking out at other chimps in nearby habitats from a whole new vantage point,” said Krystal Mathis, executive director of Primarily Primates. “One of our generous donors, Andy Cockrum, and I purposely left part of the space clear for running and arm swinging. My favorite part was seeing Baxter use that area exactly like we planned.”

Expanded opportunities for enrichment such as swings, climbing structures and playscapes matter because animals in sanctuaries need change in their lives since every day in the wild would be different. The state-of-the-art enclosure, which was built with the support of many generous donors over the past few years, will be shared on a rotating basis by nine of PPI’s 31 chimpanzees. We’re calling the new habitat “Rudy’s Great Outdoors” in honor of our late chimp Rudy who succumbed to cancer in 2017. Known as the godfather of chimps at Primarily Primates, he was the first to arrive in 1983 after years of being exhibited in a small cage as a circus sideshow attraction.

“All residents at PPI went through some sort of traumatic, exploitive experience before they arrived here,” Mathis said. “Baxter was born in a lab for experimental medicine and later was leased for scientific and cosmetic testing. Eventually he was owned by Martin’s Working Wildlife and leased to a German television show called ‘Unser Charly.’

“Now that the animals are in our care, our goal is to ensure they are happy and fulfilled, and this new green space provides a more natural environment to stimulate their wild behaviors.”

The completion of this project means all of our chimpanzees will have 24-hour access to outdoor grass bottom playground areas.