KEITHVILLE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world recently introduced eight chimpanzees, who have spent most of their lives indoors, to a forest in northwest Louisiana.

“We expected this reserved bunch to take their time and test the terrain with their toes a bit,” said Rana Smith, the President and CEO of Chimp Haven. “But that wasn’t the case at all.”

These chimpanzees, part of the Treetop Ten, are explore their new habitat. Image: Chimp Haven.

Smith also said the eight chimps dove right in and began exploring the pine forest, climbing high on the play structures.

These experiences are new to the chimps, who had not had the chance to touch a blade of grass before they arrived at Chimp Haven in Keithville.

Tequila, Connor, Denise, December, Mocha, Inky, Buster, and Axel all came to Chimp Haven last December through efforts of the Chimpanzees in Need emergency rescue after the Wildlife Waystation in Los Angeles closed unexpectedly.

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Chimp Haven is home to more than 300 chimps. Most of the chimpanzees were used for biomedical research.

At Chimp Haven, chimps live in large social groups where they can climb, play on equipment, explore the natural world, and participate in various enrichment activities.

“Tequilla’s group” have lived most of their lives without the ability to make choices for themselves. Now that they’re middle-aged, life is looking up.

“It warmed our hearts to see them embrace the choices available to them in their new forest habitat,” said Smith.

Awbrea Moss is an Animal Care Coordinator at the sanctuary. When she first met the chimps last year, she said they were an unusually quiet group.

Since moving to Chimp Haven, the chimps have become more social and gained a lot of confidence. She said she was surprised to see Connor, December, and Tequilla take to the forest instantly. The trio did prefer to stay close to the perimeter of their enclosure.

Tequilla’s group arrived at Chimp Haven almost a year ago, and it took months to introduce them to their new habitats, spaces, and to other chimpanzees. At first, the group was quarantined and given well-being checks. Then, slowly, the chimps were introduced to their new habitats.

Moss said that after the group rushed in with excitement, the calm dynamic typical of their group returned.

“It was wonderful to see,” she added.

 Chimp Haven is a non-profit chimpanzee sanctuary that’s located on 200 acres of forested land in northwest Louisiana. If you would like to visit the sanctuary, take a virtual tour at chimphaven.or/visit/digital-tour/