Why Sanctuaries?

Why should sanctuaries and researchers collaborate?

Sanctuary and researcher collaboration benefits everyone.

Sanctuary Apes

  • Benefit from improved care as managers and researchers gain more knowledge of their behavior and health.

Wild Apes

  • Benefit from strong sanctuaries that are aided in fulfilling their conservation role while researchers gain knowledge with applications for protecting wild populations.


  • Benefit from additional attention, credibility and resources that researchers bring.


  • Benefit from additional educational and employment opportunities.


  • Benefit from the unique and affordable opportunities for innovative non-invasive research on semi-free ranging ape behavior, intelligence, genetics, disease/health, morphology and physiology.

Why are there African sanctuaries for bonobos and chimpanzees?

The Wild Infant Problem

Wild bonobos and chimpanzees are critically threatened. While Africa struggles to develop economically, the remaining unprotected bonobo and chimpanzee habitats are being destroyed and the apes living within are killed.

The only surviving bonobos and chimpanzees from such populations are infants who are taken off dead mothers to be sold as “pets” within Africa or on the international black market. The trade of these infants then fuels the demise of other wild ape populations as some try to profit by obtaining and selling more infants.

Most infants die within days of capture, but those that survive face a difficult life. “Cute” babies of both species are wild animals and can never be tamed – inevitably leading to extreme psychological and physical abuse when owners can no longer manage them (i.e., apes quickly learn to bite people).

The Sanctuary Solution

Goverments in Africa have created laws banning the capture and sale of bonobos and chimpanzees. Sanctuaries were created to offer lifelong care to those individual bonobos and chimpanzees that were confiscated as a result of such laws. See Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance (PASA).

Without sanctuaries laws protecting wild apes from capture (1) could not be enforced and thus would do little to stop the trade of live infants or (2) would require euthanizing confiscated apes.

Today there are 17 sanctuaries in 12 countries. Together they provide lifelong care for over 1,000 wild born apes and economic benefit to many Africans. The majority of these sanctuary apes are infants and juveniles.

1. Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary; Pointe Noire, Congo
2. Lola ya Bonobo, Bonobo Sanctuary; Kinshasa, DR Congo
3. Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary; Entebbe, Uganda

Why are sanctuaries an invaluable resource for studying non-human apes?

The Aging Lab Problem

Largely due to expense, most great ape laboratories outside the United States have been closed. For most researchers laboratory expenses and administrative requirements have proven insurmountable. For example, the high cost of improving aging facilities for innovative long or short term projects that do not focus on human health is prohibitive.

Remaining U.S. centers only house chimpanzees with no possibility for comparisons between ape species. The three commonly recognized chimpanzee subspecies have not been maintained as separate populations so that subspecies comparisons are not possible. Laboratory populations consist almost entirely of adults and are quickly aging due to a ban on breeding since 1997 in facilities receiving U.S. federal funding.

The majority of chimpanzees in laboratories were reared and live in environments that do not resemble those where wild populations live and evolved. Most live in simple concrete cages using the decades old design of Robert Yerkes – a design produced before any studies of wild chimpanzees had been conducted.

Sanctuaries for Solutions

There are 17 sanctuaries in 12 countries each with populations ranging from 20-120 apes. Sanctuaries manage apes at a fraction of the cost of laboratories. This means relatively small grants for all types of non-invasive work can accomplish a lot. Thus, innovation is aided since, for example, it is easy to remodel workspace for short or long term projects.

All ape species (including the largest population of captive bonobos in the world – with over 40 individuals!) are represented in sanctuaries. Subspecies as a rule are maintained as separate populations so that all three chimpanzee subspecies can be compared. While breeding is controlled, the majority of individuals in sanctuaries are infants and juveniles.

Day enclosures for large social groups offer apes large tracks of tropical forest that can be as large as 40 hectares (100 acres). This means apes you will study are reared and live in environments highly similar to those for which apes evolved to thrive mentally and physically. Thus, the housing standards arguably exceed anything that exist outside of Africa.

Why do chimpanzees and bonobos benefit from research in sanctuaries?

Learning from sanctuary apes benefits both sanctuary and wild apes.

People better protect what they understand

  • It was the surprising discoveries of field biologists like Jane Goodall that inspired our species’ special interest and dedication to protecting and caring for nonhuman apes. Non-invasive research at sanctuaries can continue in this same tradition by adding to our knowledge and enthusiasm for understanding the similarities and differences between ourselves and other apes.

A new ethical standard can be set for work with captive apes

  • Successful research programs in African sanctuaries will provide researchers with an alternative to more traditional laboratories that do not offer the high quality living environment that are found in Africa. African sanctuaries in turn will become the preferred research venue given their many advantages for non-invasive research.

Researchers are another resource to ensure the welfare of sanctuary apes

  • Sanctuary apes can benefit from additional resources provided by researchers through research fees (e.g. for management costs or improvements for research), equipment (e.g. computers, veterinary equipment, etc.) or expertise (e.g. disease screening and other veterinary work). The resources of researchers that never made it to Africa before will be spent in ape range countries to aid in maintaining the high level of care found in African sanctuaries.

Behavioral research provides an additional form of enrichment

  • Many forms of behavioral research involve presenting nonhuman apes with problem solving tasks to study their intelligence (e.g. cooperative tasks in which they must work together to obtain a common goal). Apes enjoy problem solving and readily volunteer to participate in such games since they typically involve obtaining food rewards.

Can sanctuaries and researchers collaborate?

Yes! They already are!

Since 2004 researchers from all over the world have been working with PASA sanctuaries. Duke University, The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard University, St. Andrews, Kyoto University are among those carrying out successful research programs at sanctuaries.

Sanctuaries recognize the importance of learning about their captive populations through non-invasive techniques that can enrich or improve the lives of their animals. This includes studies of chimpanzee behavior, cognition, disease, morphology, physiology and genetics.

Continued success will depend on whether future researchers approach sanctuaries respectfully, with a collaborative spirit and genuine interest in ape welfare and conservation. If they do, sanctuaries will become the worlds finest resource for improving our understanding of the great apes in the decades to come – to the benefit of all!