Save the Chimps: Islands in the sun for rescued chimps

Cobalt Restaurant at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa again played host last Thursday evening to the 7th Annual Chimps Kitchen: A Celebrity Chef Tasting event to benefit Save the Chimps, the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world.

The late Dr. Carole Noon initially founded the organization to rescue 21 space program chimpanzees, discarded as surplus equipment by the Air Force and given to a biomedical research lab. A stark medical research cage in the corner of the restaurant offered a grim reminder of the miserable conditions of chimpanzees living in research laboratories, the pet trade and entertainment industry. More than 300 such chimpanzees have since found a home at STC, safely residing on 12 “islands in the sun.”

“I’ve been associated with Save the Chimps for many years. I became involved because of the chimpanzees in the space program; I believed the chimps deserved a good retirement,” said former NASA astronaut and STC Advisory Council member Bob Crippen.

Roughly 250 guests wandered about the restaurant, enjoying music by Duo Vida and bidding on a large selection of silent auction and raffle items collected by a committee co-chaired by Laura Guttridge and Judy Van Saun. Various food stations were set up around the rooms, where a delicious assortment of hors d’oeuvres and desserts had been prepared by Chefs Rachel Bourbon, Cobalt Restaurant; Ron Adams, Bobby’s Restaurant and Lounge; Andrew Carmack and Timothy Blouin, Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club; Noel Barachina and Joshua Davis, Windsor; and Ashlee and Ryan Wykoff, Frosting and Grind & Grape.

“It’s been a great year; I absolutely love being at Save the Chimps,” said Executive Director Molly Polidoroff, who just celebrated her one-year anniversary at STC. “It’s exceeded my expectations – no doubt about it.”

Polidoroff, her husband and Dr. Jocelyn Bezner, STC senior veterinarian, traveled to Chicago at the end of October to pick up their most recent rescue from the entertainment industry – a petite 8-year old chimpanzee with big brown eyes named Lisa Marie.

“It was a very profound experience. We left Chicago on a Monday morning after picking up this chimpanzee where she was living in a small basement enclosure, and less than 24 hours later she was out in one of our special-needs play yards in the sun, climbing with chimps around her. It was just a transformational experience for her and to me it was such a profound reminder of how important the work that we do is.”

Save the Chimps, which currently houses 254 chimpanzees, hopes to increase its capacity following the June 2015 change by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider all chimpanzees, whether captive or in the wild, as endangered. Chimps in captivity were previously recognized as threatened.

“The practical impact is there’s virtually no more biomedical research on chimpanzees in this country, which is a huge milestone for chimpanzee welfare. Our hope is that because of that there will be more chimps that will become available to be retired to sanctuaries. There’s no shortage of chimpanzees in need. I know I’m biased, but we are absolutely a wonderful place for them. It’s a magical place.”

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