[calm music] - [Narrator] We know that they live in families, that they protect their young and mourn for their dead.
We know that they use tools and recognize the self.
That they're more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas.
We know that they're our closest living relatives with almost 99% of the same DNA.
We also know they're endangered.
We've trapped and sold them, dressed and trained them, studied and probed them, even sent them into space.
An entire population has lived among us for well over a century, and yet here in North America we don't even know how many chimpanzees there are.
Estimates hover at 2,400.
We've treated our next of kin poorly at best.
But the darkness is starting to lift.
Today a lucky few are emerging from the shadows.
This is their story.
It's a story of second chances.
[foreboding music] This is Lou.
One of the thousands of chimps living in North America.
He's lived in Alamogordo, New Mexico for most of his life, 42 years.
How did Lou wind up here?
His journey began four decades ago in equatorial Africa.
If his life had continued its natural course, Lou would have been by his mother's side for the next five years, family bonds would have lasted forever.
But Lou's natural life was cut short, like the lives of so many other chimps in a flash.
No one seems to know when the first chimpanzee arrived in North America, but it was probably in the mid 1800's.
At first, it was out of curiosity, for man's amusement that we brought them here.
When we discovered they share the same blood types and 98.6% of the same DNA, they became the perfect medical stand in.
But it was another event that changed the course of Lou's life, the space race.
It was 1959 and the Air Force wanted baby chimps to probe the limits of our world.
Dozens of infants were captured in Africa, and transported to Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The youngsters were recruited to test the effects of space travel, to go where we didn't dare venture ourselves.
Air Force Sergeant Ed Dittmer was put in charge of training the chimps.
It was obvious that a male they named Ham had the right stuff.
- He was an easy chimp to train, he was very intelligent.
I got awful close to him, because he was such a lovable chimp.
I could pick him up and hold him, you know, and he'd put his arm around my neck, and smile.
When he flew he was 44 months, he was about the same age as my son.
[calm music] When Ham went up, I was really apprehensive.
All sorts of things went through my mind.
I was praying that he would make it through the flight.
[chiming music] - [Narrator] Ham was of course on reentry, so it took a while to find him.
The heat shield had come loose and punctured the capsule.
It was filling with water.
- I was at Cape Canaveral, just waiting and waiting and waiting for the recovery.
And then I was ecstatic, I was just, I wanted to get that little feller back.
Ham returned unscathed at least physically, proving that short trips to space were safe for man.
Next Enos was sent up.
His orbit cleared the way for John Glenn.
- [Announcer] Roger seven, you have a go.
- [Glenn] Oh, that view is tremendous.
- [Narrator] The human astronauts became heroes.
But for the chimps, it was a different story.
- I think he was a hero, big time.
He deserved at least a little ticker tape parade right here in Alamo.
- [Narrator] Ham was retired to the National Zoo, where he lived alone on display.
At 23, he was moved to North Carolina where he lived with other chimps for the first time in 17 years.
He died at 25, half the age of a healthy chimp.
And what of the other Air Force chimps?
They were reassigned to other hazardous mission experiments.
Many were used in crash-tests, measuring the effects of velocity and seat belts.
[gentle calm music] So what became of Lou?
When he was captured from the wild and pressed into military service at two, his journey had just begun.
For the past 40 years, this has been Lou's home, Alamogordo, New Mexico.
When the Air Force decided it no longer needed chimps, Lou and the others were leased out for biomedical testing.
Here, under the care of the Coulston Foundation, Lou and hundreds of other chimps were available to test everything from pharmaceuticals to industrial solvents.
Over the decades, Coulston racked up so many violations of federal animal welfare laws that the government finally withdrew its funding.
On the verge of bankruptcy, Coulston sold the facilities to a group called Save the Chimps.
In September of 2002, Dr. Carole Noon suddenly became guardian to 266 chimpanzees.
- Hey, Juan.
I had a feeling what went on behind closed doors, but when I actually saw it for myself, I was pretty shocked.
Hey, Miss Nuri.
Hello, sweet girl.
This is the oldest building.
It's called building 300, but we started calling it the dungeon shortly after I took over.
When we got here, 54 chimps lived alone.
Each one of these cells held a chimp all by himself.
I find all of this heartbreaking.
We've spent hundreds and thousands of dollars doing what we've done, my heart is still broken.
The most important thing we did inside here, was to add these doors between the cages.
Prior to that they were solid cement walls, so you could conceivably be living next door to CJ for 20 years and never have seen her face.
Yes, they're great doors, aren't they?
We know that chimps are genetically almost us, we know that they have emotions and psychological needs, we know that they love each other.
Making the introductions, especially for the people in the dungeon, was really important 'cause they had lived alone for so long.
They're like us.
They live in families.
They have friends.
They live in groups.
[chimpanzees grunts] Jordan accidentally hit Lou.
Lou turned around and went after Jordan.
Jordan said, "What are you bitching about?
It was an accident!"
And so Jordan then went after Lou, and then Lou told me all about it.
Lou came here in 1966.
Do the math, he was two years old.
He was part of the group of baby chimpanzees that the Air Force established for the Space Program.
And as early as his third birthday they started doing bone marrow and liver biopsies.
He was in a couple of different pharmaceutical development studies and then he went into the breeding program.
He pretty much gave the Air Force his all.
You know what the Air Force gave him?
They threw him in the dumpster known as the Coulston Foundation.
- [Narrator] Despite repeated federal violations, the government continued to fund Coulston.
As recently as 2002, this facility was still in operation.
- When you were picked to go on a research protocol, they'd move you from the building you were living in and move you here, in one of these cages.
It's absolutely legal in the United States to keep an adult chimpanzee in a cage five by five by a little higher than seven feet.
There's really no way to tell from the paperwork how long a chimp would be in one of these cages, I wouldn't be surprised if it were six months or a year.
- [Narrator] During its years of operation, Coulston was charged with 10 chimpanzee deaths due to negligence.
In 1993, three chimpanzees housed in this storage shed were killed when the heater malfunctioned and the temperature rose to 140 degrees.
Outraged by the conditions at the Coulston Foundation, Carole Noon filed a law suit against the Air Force.
The courts awarded her 21 the of Air Force chimps.
She moved them to a three-acre island in Central Florida.
Here on an old orange grove, they started a new life.
When Coulston finally collapsed and Save the Chimps took over in New Mexico, they began construction on another 11 islands for the rest of the chimps.
It's the single largest effort on behalf of chimpanzees in North America, funded entirely by private donations.
Once complete, this will be home to nearly 300 chimpanzees.
Back in New Mexico, Lou waits for his island.
[foreboding music] If only Lou and the others could be returned to the wild.
But some have been infected with diseases, and attempts have shown that captive chimps don't have the skills to survive in the wild.
It's too bad, the wild could use more chimps.
Here in Alamogordo in this one building, there are more chimps than at Jane Goodall's main study site in East Africa.
Destruction of the forest and hunting for bush meat have decimated chimp numbers across Africa.
Experts warn that chimpanzees could be gone from the wild within 50 years.
169 countries agree that the chimpanzee is an endangered species.
But surprisingly, in the U.S., special rules allow their continued use in entertainment, the pet trade and biomedical research.
The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that still uses chimps for medical research.
Advances in technology have made a thorny, old debate more complex than ever.
- Chimpanzees are an excellent model for a certain very selected areas of biomedical research.
We all hope other models will be developed, that will make it totally unnecessary to work with chimpanzees, but it's a far off hope.
- [Narrator] Chimps were used in the development of vaccines for hepatitis, but today more and more experts believe that emerging technologies are making the use of chimpanzees obsolete.
- Today we can design drugs around your genotype, not your mother's, not your sister's, and certainly not a chimpanzee's, so what society faces is a choice.
Drugs that were designed for you as an individual or drugs that were designed and tested on an entirely different species.
- [Narrator] While scientists debate, the fate of hundreds of chimps in labs hangs in the balance.
Tom is a veteran of the biomedical industry.
He was infected with HIV 21 years ago here at NYU's LEMSIP facility in upstate New York.
LEMSIP had over 200 chimps, most individually housed in suspended cages for easy access.
Nancy Megna worked at LEMSIP for five years.
One of her jobs was to put tags on the cages of the chimps to be anesthetized the next day.
- It was tough.
You never felt in the lab that you could do enough.
I couldn't just go up to a cage, slap some tape on and say, "See you."
Everybody would be clamoring, they would just need some attention.
- [Narrator] Many LEMSIP chimps were first used in Hepatitis studies.
Then, in 1981 when HIV was discovered, they were used for AIDS research.
After more than 200 chimps had been infected, it became clear they were poor models for HIV.
Under normal conditions, chimps don't develop AIDS.
In 1995, NYU decided to get out of the chimp business.
They announced plans to send all 225 chimps to the Coulston Foundation.
It was considered such a grim fate, that LEMSIP's chief veterinarian, Dr. Jim Mahoney began frantically searching for an alternative.
He didn't wanna see chimps like Tom here, sent to Coulston.
When the news traveled to a couple with a farm sanctuary outside of Montreal, Gloria Grow decided they had to meet Mahoney and the chimps.
- As we left he said, "I just have to tell you that the individuals you just met and that I'm suggesting that you retire are HIV positive."
I knew that I absolutely had to help those chimpanzees.
- [Narrator] Fauna Sanctuary gave 15 chimps a second chance, eight of them infected with HIV.
Gloria had absolutely no experience caring for chimpanzees.
Through years of trial and error, she's developed her own methods.
- I was taught and told not to touch chimpanzees, that they're aggressive and they're angry and they'll bite your fingers off.
But I very quickly learned that I was being invited over to have an intimate moment, a grooming session.
Chimps love to groom and they love to touch.
It's an honor to be invited over.
In the beginning, we did control everything, we didn't wanna have heavy chimps, we were really paranoid about ruining their figures and so on, kind of forgetting the overall picture that, my god, they're infected with HIV virus, they've been used in Hepatitis research.
There's not really much in the food department we can give that's going to ruin their bodies any more than the biomedical community did.
[chimpanzee grunts] To a lot of people, it's indulging the chimps, they don't understand that we think it's just part of retirement because they really have so few choices.
Come on, guys.
If you have an individual who prefers green peppers over red peppers, well then I think that he has the right to eat the green pepper.
There's this thing with serving chimpanzees, you never serve one of anything.
You need three of everything, one for each hand and one for their mouth.
We noticed that their stress levels seemed to drop when they had enough.
Food is available at all times pretty much for the chimps, and that to me was another important thing.
- [Narrator] Fauna's desperate to get the chimps out from behind bars.
They have the acreage to build small islands, and they've applied for permits.
But they've hit a local road block.
It's been years and the permits still haven't come through.
- Probably one of the biggest shocks for me when the chimps first moved here was that people would be offended that they were living here because they were HIV positive.
We've been fighting for the last five years with the city and the community and the provincial government to make sure that we can continue to do what we're doing.
We've been restricted in so many ways.
We're not allowed to give the chimps more space, we weren't allowed to add outdoor areas.
It's just been a battle.
- [Narrator] Still, Fauna is making headway with some folks in the community.
They bought their land from a local farmer, Pat Ring.
He stayed on to help at first, but now his work keeps him on the road.
- Hey Peppy!
- [Narrator] He always comes to visit when he's back in town.
Where is he, come on.
Come down here.
Come on baby.
Gimme a kiss.
I want a big one.
Gimme a big kiss.
- Here we have this cowboy guy telling me not to take HIV positive chimps because of his fear of AIDS and now I see him standing there, kissing this HIV positive adult male chimpanzee.
Tom's the one who changed his mind.
- [Narrator] Tom has an old foot injury from LEMSIP that still needs care.
- [Pat] Give me your toe-toes.
Put 'em out.
- [Narrator] It's an amazing exchange of trust that Tom lets Pat treat him.
Normally chimps have to be anesthetized for any kind of medical procedure.
- We just kind of hit it off, give me your hand, give me your hand, no, not your foot, your hand, right here, and we've been best buds ever since.
Give me your other hand.
He loves me and I love him, and it's...
I don't know.
I can't really tell you the reason.
I have no idea.
I wanted no part of the HIV infected chimps.
I was scared of mosquito bites, I thought we were gonna be all end up with AIDS.
Now there's nothing I wouldn't do for Tommy.
Hey Goof, yes.
There's no way I could receive it unless there was blood to blood contact, and if there's a procedure, we'll take precautions and there's no danger at all.
I used to be kind of a redneck type, too, I guess, but since I've had the chimps and been with the chimps, it's totally different.
They've taught me and I've changed immensely.
I mean it's unbelievable the way I've changed with my attitude towards people, not just chimps.
They are so forgiving that they have hearts bigger than ours.
There's no way I could forgive like they forgive.
And we're supposed to be human and smarter.
I don't know who's smarter.
- [Narrator] It's impossible to say how long Tom has looked at the world through bars and mesh.
Like so many chimps, there isn't a shred of information about his life before the lab.
It's likely that Tom was captured in the wild, but his history has been lost.
- Tom is actually the oldest chimpanzee here.
He's somewhere in his 40's, they don't know exactly what year he was born.
He spent something like 30 years in the laboratory.
And it's pretty obvious by some of the things he does here that he was with humans for a certain part of his life.
He likes to put socks on his feet, he'll put a jacket on, he puts baseball caps on and he's obsessed about having them on the proper way.
He knows how to use utensils.
Those are the kind of things you don't learn in the laboratory.
- [Narrator] We know that chimpanzees are highly intelligent.
Keeping them stimulated in captivity is a huge challenge.
- You have to provide enrichment.
You need to provide things for them to do, and that's extremely difficult to come up with new ideas all the time, things that they like.
Especially for the individuals that were in entertainment before.
They had a life where they probably wore clothes, they had access to toys, they slept in beds, they ate with utensils, they drank out of cups.
One of the things Jane Goodall said on one of her visits here was giving them back maybe some sort of memory that may have been good from their past is extremely important.
Chimps are very, very curious individuals anyway.
They just love to do the things that we do, they copy us, and that's obviously why they've been used for entertainment.
She didn't learn that in the wild.
She learned that from observing.
- [Narrator] 37 year-old Billy Jo is one of the many chimps used in show biz before the lab.
His history is vague, but Gloria discovered that he loves spaghetti.
Perhaps it was a favorite food from childhood.
- Do you wanna try some?
Be careful, it's very hot!
- [Narrator] Billy Jo is one of the most emotionally complicated chimps at Fauna.
Though Gloria tries, it's hard to understand his needs when there are so few details from his past.
- When the chimps first arrived this is basically all we got, we just got these little folders, they had the name of each chimp, when they arrived at LEMSIP.
"Billy Jo arrived at LEMSIP 1983, purchased from R. Heath, early history unknown.
Estimated age on arrival at LEMSIP, 15 years old."
So we actually asked if we could have their medical files.
Here's Billy Jo's record.
Punch biopsy, punch biopsy, one after the other.
In some months he had four, five, or six each month, so that means he had two sometimes per week.
Inoculated in the right and left leg with HIV vaccine.
The next month inoculated again with the HIV vaccine.
Bit off thumb following today's anesthetic.
- [Narrator] The events of Billy Jo's life have left their scars.
When he was just a youngster, all of his teeth were removed, not unusual for the circus.
At 15, he was sold to a lab, and in the span of a day he went from eating spaghetti to being locked alone in a steel cage.
In the lab, he chewed off three of his own digits when he came out of anesthesia.
Gloria's learned, after 8.5 years, that Billy is deeply insecure.
She knows his displays of bravado are only a bluff.
Beneath it all is an extremely vulnerable chimpanzee.
- Here he comes and he's got a bottle in his hand with water and he's gonna throw it.
Here he comes.
And he can reach pretty far, too.
And he's going to spit.
Bill, Bill, Bill, Billy!
Oh, be careful.
What is that for?
- [Narrator] Billy seeks almost constant reassurance from Gloria.
- What are we gonna do with you?
I know you're scared, but it's okay.
You're all right.
Aw Bill, it's okay.
I'm coming up to give you a kiss.
Aw, you're all right.
A lot of Billy's stress obviously comes from being locked up.
But he also has a difficulty living in a social group.
Billy often locks himself in a room.
Almost 80% of his time he spends alone by his choice.
So that's kind of an indication that he doesn't even know exactly how to be a chimpanzee.
He's happy with human contact, but that's the confusion, a guy like Billy suffers.
For him, it's extremely difficult.
- [Narrator] Sadly, Billy Joe's story isn't terribly unique.
The entertainment business has left a trail of discarded chimpanzees.
Usually by the age of six, chimps outgrow their cuteness and are too strong to control.
Labs no longer take them, and now dozens wind up in roadside zoos and backyard cages.
- [Patti] Hey, Grub.
- [Narrator] In Central Florida, Patti Regan used her life savings to create a Sanctuary for cast-off pets and performers.
The Center for Great Apes just received 12 new residents from Hollywood.
From Superbowl commercials to B-movies, most of these chimps performed for TV and film, including Jessie.
- Jessie is about 17 years old and she's been in movies and entertainment, and when she became too large and strong to work anymore, Jessie was put into a breeding situation.
This baby was a surprise baby.
I don't think the trainers expected this one, but he was born about a month before he arrived at the sanctuary.
This is her first opportunity to raise her own infant, and out of 36 great apes at the Sanctuary, he is the only infant that will actually be raised by his mother.
We don't breed at a Sanctuary.
There are so many mouths to feed and so many animals that we're committed to, to take care of their life, that to continue to breed more that will just stay in captivity, that have no opportunity to be returned to the wild, isn't really ethical.
- [Narrator] This little guy could live for more than fifty years.
He's escaped the cycle of show biz, but while people like Patti come to the rescue, breeders continue to bring more babies into the world.
It's almost impossible for Sanctuaries to meet the demand.
31 year-old Toddy is yet another casualty.
She landed at Patti's seven years ago.
Every few months she gets a visit from an old friend.
- [Larry] Hey, Tod?
Hey, kid, Hi, kid!
Hey, how's my baby?
How's my girl?
What have you got.
Wanna check out... - [Narrator] Life hasn't been easy for Toddy.
She still has bullet fragments in her skull from her capture in the wild.
After years as a pet, she wound up at a breeding farm where she had four babies.
Larry Barnhart recently located his surrogate daughter after 22 years.
- [Larry] What do you think about Dairy Queen?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
Yeah, you like Dairy Queen, don't you.
Yeah, you do.
I raised her as a child, I kept her as a child.
She slept with us, ate with us, went in the boat with us.
She used to love it at the beach, we'd take her to the beach.
We had her in a bikini bathing suit herself.
I moved to an area that I couldn't keep her any more and I had to part with her, and that was the hardest thing in the world.
The person that took her from me said he wanted one to raise, he had her sold.
He made good money on her, and that was a pretty dirty trick.
Bad thing is people don't realize that these cute little critters, as they get older you gotta part with them.
Yeah, isn't that right?
- [Narrator] No one knows for certain how many pet chimps are still out there, but it's possible to purchase chimpanzees right on the internet.
All you need is the money and in some states you don't even need a permit.
What happens to chimps like Toddy and Billy Jo when their owners can't handle them any more?
Too many wind up in bad situations, but a lucky few now end up at Sanctuaries where people like Gloria try to piece together their lives.
- For years we sort of have tried to find people like R. Heath that could just tell us a little more so we could understand a little more about Billy and Sue Ellen, just so we could help them.
Finally, after 7.5 years we've managed to find him.
We're not sure if it's going to be a happy reunion or a painful reunion, but we think it's worth taking the chance.
- [Heath] I don't recognize people after 20 years.
I would be really impressed if he did.
I worked a double shift.
- Bob Heath was Billy Jo's second owner until he couldn't care for him any longer.
Out of desperation he sold Billy and a chimp named Sue Ellen to LEMSIP.
That was 20 years ago, he hasn't seen either of them since.
- He should be coming.
There's... Look there's Sue Ellen coming out of the tunnel up there.
She can't see very well anymore.
Where is that Billy?
There he is.
Who's that Bill?
Watch your foot.
- Billy Jo.
- Watch your foot.
There's the kiss.
That's what he had to do.
- [Heath] Hey, big guy.
- [Narrator] A lot has happened in 20 years.
Bob has a wife and kids, and Billy Jo has been infected with HIV.
- I didn't know if all those years, where he'd been it would have made him meaner and more aggressive.
He acts just like he... [laughs] Riding in a car, he would always, he'd doze off but he wouldn't fall asleep without leaving his arm on your lap.
That way, he felt secure that if you left, the movement would wake him up, and he wouldn't wake up.
It was like a safely net for him.
- [Gloria] Sue Ellen, go see him, honey.
She says, "I don't know if I remember you."
- [Gloria] You gotta be kidding.
She doesn't do that to people, believe me!
- [Heath] It's hard to find an apartment where you can have a dog even.
- [Gloria] Oh my god, yeah.
- [Heath] Try to find a place to live where you can bring two chimps with you.
- [Gloria] Exactly.
- And then you go to look for a place for 'em to go, and every place you know of isn't good.
Now I knew what the animal trainers did, that definitely wasn't good.
I was hoping that these two would have a baby, that's why I had 'em.
Now if I would've had a baby chimp, I would had a ball with that chimp, everybody loves a cute baby chimp, and you're out in the public with them and you're having a ball, but while you're doing that, they're stuck in a cage and he's not going out for ice cream anymore.
I know now that it's wrong, they really belong in Africa.
He's still got that playful side to him.
[calm music] Okay.
[calm music] [chimpanzee grunts] - Hi, big guy.
I'll get you a Kleenex to wipe your hand.
Wipe your hand.
Oh not your nose, your hand.
Once the chimps moved in here I realized I was just the jail keeper.
They were still living behind bars.
They were living in a concrete and steel building.
It's just not enough.
Get them on grass, let them look at the sky for god's sakes without there being bars over their head.
- [Narrator] It's hard to imagine spending your entire life in a cage.
After five years of waiting, the permit to build islands still hasn't come through.
[foreboding music] [birds chirping] For 266 other chimpanzees, a better life is drawing nearer.
Back in Florida at Save the Chimps, one of the new islands is almost complete.
With every day that passes, the urgency grows.
Some lab chimps have health problems from their years in research.
Carole worries that some might not make it to their island.
In New Mexico, the clock is ticking.
[chimpanzee grunts] - [Jen] Hey Ron, time for you meds, buddy.
Want some juice?
Come here sweetie.
- [Carole] Ron's about 30 years old, we're not quite sure how old he is 'cause his records are kind of sketchy.
About six or seven months ago, we noticed that Ron started to retain water, and the chimps' doctor, Dr. Bezner, realized that this was an indicator of heart disease, so she ran some diagnostic tests, and that's exactly what it turned out to be.
You're in a good mood today, aren't you?
Look at that big smile.
I can see your tattoo, 613.
- [Narrator] Much of Ron's life was spent at LEMSIP.
When it closed, he was one of the unlucky ones to be sent to Coulston.
His research days were far from over.
- After he moved here to the Coulston Foundation, he got involved in an experiment called Spinal Dynamics.
The research was to test a cervical replacement device.
They removed their healthy disks and replaced them with this device.
The next step in that was taking the device out, which meant that Ron was minus part of his spine.
I mean I can only imagine what kind of pain they endured.
One of the chimpanzees that went through this experiment actually died, so that that experiment was pointless because good laboratory practices were not followed here.
Ron and all the others sacrificed God only knows what for nothing.
When we found him in building 300 living alone, as far as we know, he's always lived alone until now.
- [Narrator] Today, Ron lives with 23 other chimps.
Thoto is one of his closest friends.
- [Carole] Thoto is a little story unto himself.
He used to be in the circus and then apparently was somebody's pet for a long time.
Thoto has no teeth, which means that they were taken out, probably in an effort to keep him under control and performing a little bit longer.
- [Narrator] Because of Ron's bad heart, Carole's decided to move him to Florida right away.
She's afraid to wait any longer.
- We all just wanna make sure that Ron gets his fair share of the happy ending.
So, pack your bags, Ron.
Fold your blanket.
Fold up your box.
I guess so, Ron.
- [Narrator] They're sending Thoto along to keep Ron company.
The chimp's vet, Dr. Bezner, will be in the truck the whole way to monitor Ron's health.
- [Everyone] Good bye, Thoto.
[gentle music] - [Narrator] For two chimpanzees, the journey is nearly over.
[chimpanzees grunts] Lou and 263 other chimps still wait their turn.
These are not the only chimps waiting for retirement.
More than 1200 chimpanzees are still held in the U.S. in government-funded labs.
We contacted the major ones, although funded by taxpayer dollars, none would allow us to film.
They say conditions for most lab chimps have improved, but in the last five years there've been investigations into three chimpanzee deaths at facilities funded by the government.
Many of the chimps in labs are actually no longer being used in research.
The discovery of AIDS in the 80s triggered a breeding boom, which, in turn, created a surplus.
Today the care of each chimp in government-owned labs costs as much as 10,000 taxpayer dollars per year.
To deal with the surplus, the U.S. House and Senate passed a landmark bill in 2000 called the CHIMP Act.
It stipulates that government-owned chimps no longer needed in research should be provided sanctuary.
Since a sanctuary would be both cheaper and more humane, the bill had almost unanimous support, until a controversial clause was added.
- The Chimp Act started out as a great idea.
But at the last minute they added a loophole, the chimpanzees can be recalled and put back into research.
- [Narrator] The government budgeted $24 million for a new facility to house 200 chimps in Louisiana.
Most agree it's a step in the right direction, but while the chimps here can be called back to research, those at privately-owned sanctuaries like Save the Chimps, are retired for good.
- We don't get any government subsidies, everything we do here is through private donations and foundations.
When Ron gets to Florida, he stays in Florida.
- [Narrator] After two days on the road, Ron and Thoto are just miles from their new home.
With Ron's bad heart, everyone's anxious for the trip to be over.
They'll give Ron and Thoto a day to adjust before opening the doors to the island.
- [Chance] Ready?
Here he comes!
[everyone cheers] [Thoto grunts] - [Narrator] The next morning, they put the final touches on the island.
- We're putting this fire hose bridge out 'cause we have some chimps that won't go out unless they have something to hold onto.
They haven't been out on grass, so they're afraid to go out without touching something manmade.
- [Narrator] When long term prisoners are awarded their freedom, it's rarely an easy adjustment.
Ron has spent his entire life in a small cage, most of it in solitary confinement.
Concrete and steel are all he's known.
[slow music] - Did you copy that?
[slow music] - [Narrator] Ron can't step beyond the concrete.
- A door has been opened, that's the point.
Tomorrow he may go in behind the mountain and I won't be able to find him at lunch.
The tragedy would have been if he had been left behind.
- [Narrator] The next morning, it's Thoto's turn.
As a circus performer, a pet, and finally a biomedical subject, Thoto's been through it all.
No one knows what to expect.
[slow music] [people cheering] - This isn't easy.
They've lived in boxes forever, and when I open that door and I don't ask them anything, I give them the choice, do you wanna sit in the box or do you wanna go sit in the sun?
And they decide.
That's the point of the exercise.
[slow music] - [Narrator] No one could get Thoto to come in that evening.
He chose to spend the night beneath the moon.
Meanwhile in Canada, Gloria's got great news.
The community has started to come around.
- They were afraid initially, they're over their fears, and we're not having conflict anymore, in fact, we're having great community support.
- [Narrator] The permits for the islands have finally come through.
- We fought for five or six years with the city to be allowed to do this for them.
It's all I want for them now, it's the only sense of a type of freedom I feel I can give them.
Pat's coming to see you today.
He's coming to be with you all day.
He's gonna give him big hugs.
He's gonna give him big hugs, yeah.
You miss him, eh?
It's a week, oh, and you're so hot!
Why are you so hot?
Thomas, let me feel your head a minute.
We might have to get... Aw, are you feeling okay?
Aw, maybe we'll get Pat and Richard to come and look at you, eh?
- [Richard] He's certainly not getting any skinnier.
- [Narrator] Richard Allen, Gloria's husband, is a local veterinarian who used all his savings to create this refuge for the chimps.
Richard's able to take care of the chimps' basic medical needs.
- [Richard] You ready, big Tommy?
- With Tom, because of his wonderful relationship with Pat, we're able to do a lot more without it being extremely invasive or threatening.
- [Richard] Oooh, it's not gonna hurt, it's not gonna hurt, it's not gonna hurt, it's not gonna hurt.
What a good boy!
Can I get a kiss?
- We can't lose Thomas.
Nope, you've gotta go on your island.
Three of the chimpanzees that lived here died very prematurely.
They did not live out the expected life of a captive chimpanzee.
Um, their bodies couldn't deal with all the horrific things that had been done to them.
What we've realized is they're living on borrowed time.
It's the deaths that have made the islands the most important, and to me, it's an urgency now.
- [Narrator] The chimps have been watching the construction for months.
At last the time has come.
Billy Jo seems to know exactly what's going on, that his moment is finally here.
[Billy grunts] - I'm gonna open it.
I'm gonna open it, okay, I'm gonna open it.
Oh, hi, Bear.
You be careful, Bear.
- [Pat] Billy, don't touch no wires bud.
Don't touch no.... - [Narrator] It's been over 22 years since he's seen the world without a filter of steel.
- Look at that guy.
Oh my God, you look great!
I'm so happy for Billy.
[weeps] I'm just so happy for him.
Just look at him, he looks incredible.
I mean this is all he's wanted is to be out and free, this isn't free, but he looks so great.
[calm music] - [Narrator] Tom still seems under the weather, but they wanna give him a chance at the island.
What happens next is beyond what anyone could have imagined.
[calm music] - [Gloria] Oh my God!
- [Pat] You be careful up there big guy.
- [Gloria] Just look at him!
Be careful up there, big boy!
- [Pat] Hang on!
- [Gloria] I would think that would confirm that's a wild-caught chimp.
[calm music] - [Narrator] We know so little about this old chimpanzee, given the name Tom by someone, someplace.
All we know is that he spent 30 years in a steel cage.
Tom has reached the end of his journey at last.
If we could retrace our steps, perhaps we'd choose to rewrite our history with our closest relative.
We can't undo the past, of course.
But we can reconsider the future, and the cost to the chimpanzee.
Thousands like Tom have sacrificed everything so that we might live a little longer or laugh a little louder.
Far from the forests of equatorial Africa, this old chimp can finally survey the strange landscape that has become his home.
His trials have come to an end, but his story will live on, a reminder of the thousands like him, who are still waiting for a second chance.