Demolished CWU building to help chimps in Pacific Northwest

CWU Primate Studies

ELLENSBURG, Wash. - Central Washington University is in the throng of demolition at its Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute building.

Former CWU student J.B. Mulcahy said the process is bitter sweet.

“We actually helped to build some of these platforms,” he said, pointing to a tower of wooden frames. 

Mulcahy is now an instructor with CWU’s primate program and the director of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Cle Elum. 

While he said it is sad to see the old building go, he is confident the ultimate result will benefit everyone.

Until 2013, the facility housed several chimpanzees in a maze of indoor-to-outdoor enclosures. The final two chimpanzees were eventually transferred to a sanctuary in Canada.

Now, as construction crews dismantle the vacant structure, they’re saving parts of the enclosure to send to the sanctuary in Cle Elum.

“So instead of all of these materials just going into a landfill somewhere, all of the stuff can be repurposed and reused to make lives better for some primates in the near future,” director of the CWU primate program Dr. Lori Sheeran said.

Materials earmarked for donation include expensive steel doors, grated climbing walls and $15,000 worth of bullet-proof glass.

“They have to be chimp proof,” Mulcahy explained.

In 2015, the federal government ended invasive lab testing on chimpanzees, which are endangered. 
Now hundreds of chimpanzees need homes in sanctuaries where they can live peacefully in small groups. 

Cle Elum’s sanctuary is home to seven of these chimps retired from lab testing. Organizers are now gearing up to expand their facility with donated items from CWU to make room for more primates in need.

“We're happy that part of that legacy that these chimps are leaving-- and that this facility is leaving --is going to be these materials that are donated,” Mulcahy said. “Going to help other chimpanzees and future students down the road.”

Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest and CWU have a close relationship. Although campus is no longer home to chimpanzees, students in the primatology programs have opportunities to gain hands-on field experience in nearby Cle Elum.

Seventeen students are currently interns.

“We are the only campus in the United States that has an undergraduate degree in primate behavior,” Sheeran said. “They leave the program ready to take care of primates in any setting.”

The demolition of the largely unused primate building will be one of the topics of discussion at a public hearing at CWU Thursday, Feb. 1.

The meeting is from 5:15-6:15 p.m. in Conference Room 116 of the CWU Jongeward Physical Plant Building at 205 E. 11th Ave. in Ellensburg.

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