Journey from research facility to sanctuary – More than a decade ago, more than 265 chimpanzees -- including Howard, pictured here in 2002 -- spent their days at a New Mexico medical research facility being poked, prodded and confined to small cages. Then, the Save the Chimps foundation intervened. After nearly a decade of rehabilitation, the chimps were transported to a 150-acre sanctuary in Florida. CNN went along with the last group as they made the journey and experienced their first time outdoors.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – Preparing the chimpanzees for their move was bittersweet for Save the Chimps employees, who spent years caring for the animals. "What am I going to do when I get up at 5 o'clock in the morning and they're not here?" asked Debra Lovelace as she tearfully said goodbye to Bart, a 20-year-old chimpanzee. "It's been eight years but it's part of a dream." That dream is to see these chimpanzees moved to a Florida sanctuary where they will have space to run and play.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – Guilder rests as he begins the long journey to Florida, thanks to the sedation needed to get him into the transport cage. It is the final trip transporting the last nine of the 266 chimpanzees from the Coulston Foundation facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – The specially designed trailer that carries the chimps -- a moving billboard for Save the Chimps -- has windows allowing the chimpanzees to see out and the public to see in, says the group's sanctuary director, Jen Feuerstein. The chimpanzees are often heard banging and hollering before they are seen through the tinted windows.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – At a gas station in Slidell, Louisiana, cashier Denise Johnson runs out of the store to greet the chimpanzees. "I get to see them every time they come," says Johnson, who has greeted most of the 27 groups of chimps as they make their cross-country journey. Realizing that this is the final group of chimpanzees, Johnson starts to cry. "Well I hope they're happy where they're going," she says.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – The trailer stops about every two hours so Feuerstein can check on the chimps, feed them and give them medication. Moesha, Alari and Sarah have to take birth control pills and Bart, Alari and Brody take medicine for anxiety.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – After about 40 hours on the road, the final chimpanzees arrive at their retirement home in Fort Pierce, Florida. Roady and Bradley run around the cage hooting and hollering in excitement after being let out of their transport boxes. The chimpanzees are reunited with the others in their 19-member family. The Save the Chimps staff spent years creating family units for these highly social animals as part of their rehabilitation.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – Fifteen-year-old JJ still finds security in his blankets. "We are basically taking responsibility for the lives that someone else created," says Save the Chimps' Feuerstein, who relies on donations to fund the sanctuary. Each chimpanzee will cost the sanctuary $15,500 every year to take care of, she says.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – Sarah looks out the window at a much greener view than the one she had in New Mexico. She and her family members will have access to a three-acre island. The 150-acre sanctuary has constructed the islands in lieu of fences because chimpanzees will not go into the water.
Journey from research facility to sanctuary – Moesha is the first chimp to make it onto one of the islands. After a lifetime spent indoors, these chimpanzees can finally look up and see the sun. Feuerstein expresses her relief that the foundation's 10-year rescue operation has come to a successful end. "It's amazing what we've accomplished," she says. "Nobody's moved this many chimps over this many years and without incident."