Former Lab Animals Get A New Life at the Chimp Haven Sanctuary in Louisiana

chimp haven sanctuary
Welcome to Chimp Haven, the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Louisiana.

The world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary can be found in the forest outside Shreveport, Louisiana. Chimp Haven takes in former lab animals and aims to give them a normal, happy life in a protected environment.

The sanctuary isn’t open for daily visits, but it does invite visitors twice a year for special events. You can also book a private tour on weekdays if you’re willing to make a generous donation. Read on for the details!

In this article, we’ll discuss:
-The history and purpose of Chimp Haven
-How you can visit today and take a private tour
-Success stories of chimps who are thriving there

About the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Chimp Haven was founded in 1995, becoming the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary in 2002. Its current 200-acre site can be found in Eddie D. Jones Nature Park in Keithville, Louisiana, about 20 miles from Shreveport.

It was established after Congress passed the Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and Protection Act, aka the Chimp Act, which set up the federal sanctuary system.

This facility now houses more than 300 chimps, most of which are former lab animals, used in experiments and biomedical research laboratories.


They are given expert care and can play in the trees, exercise, form social groups, and live normal lives.

A handful, like Henry, were pets or worked in the entertainment industry. The oldest is more than 60 years old.

In 2015, the National Institutes of Health finally ended research on chimps in the U.S. That led to a large batch of new animals being sent to this sanctuary.

They recently welcomed another 10 chimps – The Treetop Ten – from defunct animal sanctuaries in Los Angeles.

The forested grounds of Chimp Haven are divided into separate sections with groups of chimps that enjoy the good life and play together with minimal human intervention.

chimp haven tours

They are fed and cared for by Chimp Haven staff, but for the most part they live on their own within their habitats and have the ability to move from the outdoor environments to their indoor enclosures whenever they like.

The animals are split into groups depending on their needs – some have diseases like HIV and hepatitis, some are elderly, some are rowdy teenagers.

How to Visit Chimp Haven: Private Tours, Discovery Days


Visiting Chimp Haven is not easy. Because Chimp Haven was designed for its chimps rather than for tourists, it is not open to the public daily like a zoo.

But the national sanctuary does make an effort connect with the local community by offering special events for the public.

Twice a year, Chimp Haven hosts Chimpanzee Discovery Days, which can attract hundreds of guests. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for kids.

Besides providing an opportunity to observe chimpanzee behavior, Discovery Day caters to families with themed activities, like the hayrides and carnival games of the recent Fall Festival.


Another option for curious visitors is the occasional Chimp, Chat & Chew activity, which allows guests to pay a premium price to enjoy breakfast on site and take part in a behind-the-scenes tour of the grounds and a Q&A with staff.

Other newly-added events at Chimp Haven include Brunch in the Wild and Enrichment with the Chimps. Long-term goals for the site include an on-site museum and gift shop.

Does Chimp Haven offer private tours? Yes, they do. They request a minimum donation of $500 for six people or $1000 for twelve people, and tours must take place on weekdays. See their tours page.

Though the federal government covers a percentage of its costs, Chimp Haven still relies on donations to provide the proper care for its residents. It now costs $24,000 per chimp to house, feed, and take care of them.

national chimp sanctuary forested habitat

Those not in the Shreveport area who wish to support the facility can contribute online or purchase artwork created by chimpanzees.

Chimps are humans’ closest relatives, and seeing their personalities up close really brought home the importance of the work being done at Chimp Haven.

That work gives these retired and rescued animals a chance to live out their remaining years in a peaceful and safe environment.

Chimp Haven is one of the most interesting things to do in Shreveport, Louisiana. Make sure to visit if you’re in town!

My Visit to Chimp Haven in North Louisiana

On this day, I got to witness feeding time. The chimps were given onions and bananas.


The onions were passed out first because, like humans, the chimps would always choose a sweet, sweet banana over an onion if given the choice.

Staff members do not enter the enclosures while chimps are active, as the animals have naturally aggressive tendencies.

They can often be heard yelling and can be aggressive toward raccoons, snakes, and skunks that make the mistake of wandering into their territory.

One of the cool sights behind the scenes is this indoor growing room that produces some of the veggies for the chimpanzees’ diet.

The food travels an entire 50 feet from the greenhouse to the chimps’ enclosures. It’s the ultimate in farm-to-table dining!


Just like humans, chimps have unique personalities. The specific chimps in the facility have changed over the years.

When I visited, I enjoyed watching 29-year-old Violet, who had taken a liking to SpongeBob stuffed toys, which she carried around with her.

Sara was a food lover who sometimes snuck treats away from the others when they aren’t looking. Sting was a 22-year-old smitten with a female named Abby from a neighboring enclosure.

Jeff was a strong male who wasn’t afraid to show his affinity for roses and plastic toys. Which chimps will you enjoy getting to know when you visit?

One Animal’s Story: Henry the Chimp

Several years ago, Henry the chimpanzee was near death. Rescued from the dark, dirty conditions of a garage where he was held for 15 years by a private owner who somehow thought that keeping a chimp as a pet in a rusty cage was a good idea, Henry was emaciated, had sores all over his body, and was vomiting blood.

The years of neglect had taken their toll, but fortunately, a neighbor discovered Henry and called the authorities, beginning a process that ended with Henry’s arrival at Chimp Haven.

Henry the chimp watches a group of visitors to the chimp sanctuary.

During his early days at Chimp Haven, Henry struggled since he had never been properly socialized. He had no idea how to be a chimpanzee and was not accepted by the others.

When it rained, he would sit outside getting drenched, something chimps rarely do, because he preferred that to being in the indoor enclosure and having to interact with his peers.

These days, at age 29, Henry is healthy and in fact has become the dominant male of his group. He’s also a prolific tree climber, having learned the skill by observing the other primates.

During my recent visit to Chimp Haven, he greeted us and excitedly followed along with our vehicle from the other side of a small lake. I’ll go so far as to describe his behavior as “gallivanting.” This fellow had a lot of energy!

You’d never know Henry had a troubled past from looking at him now. His recovery is a heartwarming success story for Chimp Haven.

Meet the Chimps Documentary: The Chimp Sanctuary In Popular Culture

Fun Hollywood fact: All of the vocalizations for the 2014 film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were recorded at Chimp Haven. After all, where else would you go to get authentic recordings of chimps?

In 2020, National Geographic created a documentary called Meet the Chimps that was filmed here at the chimp sanctuary.

Narrated by Jane Lynch, the 6-part series takes a deep dive into the lives and personalities of many of the animals here at Chimp Haven. 

The series portrays the fights, the romances, the cliques, and the celebrations of the chimps at the sanctuary. Watching the series is the next best thing to actually visiting Louisiana to see them in person!

Meet the Chimps is one of the best travel-related documentaries available for streaming right now! It airs on the Disney+ network.

National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Louisiana