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US laboratory research chimps finally complete move to Wingham Wildlife Park

By Gerry Warren

Seven special and long-awaited newcomers are settling into their new home at Wingham Wildlife Park.

After months of legal wrangles over their export from the USA, a troop of chimps has finally arrived to take up residence at the zoo.

They are likely to prove a huge attraction, but park bosses say it will be some time before Agatha, Elvira, Faye, Fritz, Georgia, Lucas and Tara are ready to meet the public.

One of the chimps get into the swing of his new surroundings at Wingham Wildlife Park
One of the chimps get into the swing of his new surroundings at Wingham Wildlife Park

Their new £1 million home is a welcome new start after their previous lives at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta.

Now 'retired', they have been given the chance to live out the rest of their lives as a social group in specially-designed spacious surroundings with both private 'bedrooms' and public outdoor and indoor areas, complete with ropes and other play equipment.

Animal curator Markus Wilder said two vets from Yerkes accompanied the chimps during their flight to England and the animals arrived on Tuesday night “fit and happy”.

The troop are all young adults who have grown up with each other.

One of the chimps get into the swing of his new surroundings at Wingham Wildlife Park
One of the chimps get into the swing of his new surroundings at Wingham Wildlife Park

Park owner Tony Binskin said: "We are incredibly pleased the chimpanzees have now arrived and our focus is on helping them settle in to their new life here.

"We appreciate all the Yerkes Research Center has done to collaborate with us to open our new chimpanzee exhibit, and we know Yerkes employees will continue to be a resource for us."

Markus Wilder, the park’s curator, added. "This does, however, mean the chimpanzees will not be on public display right away because there will be a lot for them to take in during the next few weeks and we want to give them as much privacy as possible.

"This process involves them getting used to their new keepers and enclosure, which has plenty of climbing space and enrichment devices to entertain them.

"During this introductory process, the small primates living upstairs in the chimpanzee building will also be off display.

"Once they have settled in, we will begin allowing small groups of people to meet our newest residents.

"At this time, we cannot guarantee how long this settling-in process will take, as this is truly up to each animal.

"It's going to be a great experience for the chimpanzees seeing lots of different people who are excited to meet them.

"We all feel from our experiences welcoming other animals to our park that these seven chimpanzees will settle in to life with us without any problem, and we are all looking forward to slowly introducing them to everyone."

Luke and Scott Binskin meet one of their excited new arrivals
Luke and Scott Binskin meet one of their excited new arrivals

The bid to bring the chimps to Wingham faced legal challenges in America after law suits were filed by animal rights campaigners against the export licence granted to the park and the Yerks Center by the USA Fish and Wildlife Service.

Campaigners argued there was no need to put the chimps through the "stressful" journey to the UK and they should be accommodated in a sanctuary in the USA.

It was that process which delayed and even threatened to prevent their transfer until a judge ruled in the park’s favour a few weeks ago.

As part of the conditions of the export licence, both Wingham Wildlife Park and the Yerkes Center have agreed to financially support chimpanzee protection projects in the wild, costing £150,000.

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