Seven chimps finally set foot into outside world

Seven chimps finally set foot into outside world »Play Video
CLE ELUM, Wash. -- Imagine spending a lifetime in captivity and never setting foot outside or breathing fresh air.

For seven rescued chimpanzees, the only life they've known has been inside four walls. The chimps have been cooped up inside anywhere from 20 to 35 years.

We were there when, for the first time, they stepped outside.

The moment the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest door slid open to the outside world, two of the seven chimps bolted out.

One by one, and without hesitation, all seven chimps stepped onto something they've never felt -- the earth; real dirt. The chimps started making noise - it began with a low-pitched hoot and got louder and louder.

"They're excited!" said Zibby Wilder a volunteer and Board Member of the Chimp Sanctuary.

The chimps ran circles, quickly exploring each corner of their outdoor playground. It seemed as if they had to touch everything from an old tire to plastic buckets filled with peanuts to blankets and children's tool set.

"It's just fabulous to see them climbing around, see them exploring -- it's incredible," said an awe-struck Keith LaChappelle.

For LaChappelle, this is a dream realized. Empowered by an article he read about chimps in captivity, Keith decided to build this chimpanzee sanctuary. It opened in June.

Without it, he couldn't rescue chimps; couldn't give them their dignity. All seven chimps were rescued from a medical research lab.

"Jamie (one of the chimps) spent years in the lab and would pluck the hair on her belly, just out of sheer boredom," said LaChappelle.

Since moving to the sanctuary, Jamie has stopped pulling her hair out.

"They don't belong in captivity," said LaChappelle.

All the chimps were rescued from lab that kept them inside housed inside a 3-by-5-foot cage.

"As far as we know, their feet have never touched the earth, it's always been concrete or bars," said LaChappelle.

In a matter of five minutes, all seven chimps were outside and happy.

One chimp, Burrito was a little nervous -- you could tell by his tall stance and his hair standing on end. But in time, all seven seemed to make themselves at home and finding a bite to eat -- unpeeled banana was most popular.

Some just hang out on the caged wall, dangling by one arm, or just making a nest with a collection of blanket to kick back and feel the sun.

"I was a little speechless -- I thought they'd take time more," Wilder said. "But the care and trust and bonding that's formed at this place, they know this is a special safe place for them."

Donations and volunteers keep the sanctuary running. They're raising $28,000 to pay for the 20-by-30-foot outdoor play area.

If you'd like to help, click here on the Problem Solvers fund or contribute directly to www.chimpsanctuarynw.org.