NEW ORLEANS — After creating the national sanctuary for federal research chimpanzees and spending 10 years as its president, Linda Brent is looking forward to spending time with her husband and finishing her master’s degree.
“My husband lives in the Houston area. We’ve been kind of apart for 10 years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to living in same house.”
She’s also been taking classes toward a master’s in business administration, and may work just on that for a while.
First, though, she has to get her personal menagerie — two pigs, 30 turkeys, two dogs, three goats and three chickens — 230 miles from Keithville, to a new home in Magnolia, Texas.
The hogs aren’t little Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs but full-sized porkers — rescue animals. Finding a place to live with them was a bit of a problem.
“People don’t like to have pigs as neighbors,” she said.
They found a house and 29 acres with proper zoning.
Chimpanzees have been a big part of Brent’s life since 1995, when she founded Chimp Haven Inc. as a nonprofit. Four years later, she persuaded the Caddo Parish government to donate 200 acres in the Eddie D. Jones Nature Park near Keithville. In 2002, Congress approved up to $30 million for construction and chimp care.
The first 31 chimpanzees arrived in 2005. More than 120 now live there, with another 113 arriving during the next 18 months.
Brent is retiring at the end of this year — a decision she made a year ago. Chimp Haven’s board of directors recently chose Cathy Willis Spraetz to replace her. Spraetz is the former president and CEO of Partnership against Domestic Violence and other nonprofit groups in the Atlanta area.
Her expertise is in fundraising, financial acumen, program innovation and staff talent development, according to Chimp Haven.
She’ll be in charge of a chimpanzee population that will nearly double in size in the next 18 months to more than 230, and an organization that could face a big money problem.
Chimp Haven is to get 113 primates from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s research center in New Iberia — about half in the next four months and the rest as new play areas and bedrooms can be made for them.
The first groups to arrive will be those that staffers at Chimp Haven and the New Iberia Research Center think can join groups already at the sanctuary. Age, personalities and sex all are discussed. Some of the earliest arrivals will be a group of five females to be introduced to a group of five males.
“We’re anticipating that this will be a very easy introduction,” Brent said. “Usually males are very happy to have females in their group with them.”
After a quarantine period, the newcomers are put into a “howdy” — an area blocked off by wire mesh so the apes can interact with others without any danger of a fight.
“Sometimes they just love each other right off the bat,” Brent said. Other times, the two groups may start out aggressive but work things out. If not, “we try to use what the chimps are saying as the highest priority,” Brent said.
For males, the quarantine period will include a vasectomy.
The National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday that it is sending all of ULL’s federally owned chimps that are healthy enough for travel to Keithville rather than to a Texas lab. Brent said she was glad to have that done before she retired.
But the sanctuary has a looming problem. Cathy Hudson, the deputy director for science, outreach and culture, said during a teleconference Wednesday that NIH is nearing a $30 million cap on total spending for construction and care of apes at Chimp Haven.
Hudson said the cap, set when Congress made Chimp Haven the national sanctuary, will be reached this year. That would stop NIH from making its 75 percent contribution to the animals’ care.
“The total dollars we need to support chimpanzees will remain steady or even drop,” she said, but research money comes from a different pocket than money for Chimp Haven.
She said NIH has been asking members of Congress to lift or raise the limit.
“Reaching that cap will have dire consequences for those animals in retirement,” she said.
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