Save the Chimps would like to pay tribute to two of our beloved senior citizens who have passed away in recent months, Stu and Thelma. Both of these incredible chimps endured years of unimaginable hardships but thankfully found a peaceful retirement at Save the Chimps.

We are honored to have known and loved them, and their absence is deeply felt by all.

Stu Thelma
Stu (1) Thelma

Stu’s records indicate that he was born sometime between 1949 and 1962, so he may have been as old as 63 or as young as 50. Stu was probably captured somewhere in Africa when he was an infant, and was brought to the United States where he first went to a CDC laboratory in Phoenix, and then ended up at Holloman Air Force Base. It’s possible he was an experimental subject in the early days of space research. In 1967, Stu was transferred to a lab known as LEMSIP, where he lived for the next three decades in a cage no larger than 5’x5’x7’ high, suspended off the ground like a birdcage. For nearly thirty years, Stu never went outdoors, never saw the sun or sky, and never set foot on solid ground. In 1996, LEMSIP closed, and Stu was transferred to New Iberia Primate Research Center, where he lived for four years before being transferred to the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, TX.

WAO went bankrupt in 2010, and Save the Chimps rescued Stu and three other elderly companions—Mona, Ursula, and Andrea—in 2011. Stu became a member of Doug’s Group, and found friendship with many chimpanzees, including Garfield, Rebel, Emily, Tanya, and others. On one memorable occasion, Stu’s caregivers discovered Stu sitting on Rebel’s back while holding onto a beam over his head. Rebel was bouncing up and down, shaking Stu as he hung onto the bar. Stu laughed and laughed, and their silly antics went on for at least 20 minutes. He may have been an old man, but he was young at heart.

Stu spent a happy year on his island home, where he relished the wide open spaces of the outdoors. He endeared himself to his caregivers who fell in love with his spunky spirit. He was pampered and fussed over until his final moments. He passed away due to complications related to respiratory and cardiac disease, surrounded by those who loved him.


Thelma was born somewhere in Africa, in the mid-1960s. She ended up at the Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma, where she was used in sign language research. Thelma had at least one child at IPS, her daughter Tatu, who is a resident of the Chimpanzee Human and Communication Institute. When IPS closed in the early 1980s, Thelma and most of the other chimps at IPS were sent to LEMSIP, a lab where Thelma was imprisoned in a tiny cage suspended off the ground. Thelma spent over a decade at LEMSIP, where she was used as a breeder. She was impregnated every single year for a decade, giving birth to eight children, and suffering one stillbirth and one miscarriage.  All of Thelma’s children were taken from her, never to be reunited with her again. When LEMSIP closed in the late 1990s, Thelma was shipped to yet another lab, The Coulston Foundation. Here she was reunited with two other IPS and LEMSIP veterans, Carrie and Peggy, and they became her best friends. When The Coulston Foundation itself went bankrupt in 2002, Thelma was at last rescued by Save the Chimps.

Thelma became a member of Alice’s Group and migrated to Florida in 2005, where a beautiful island with rolling hills became her home. She and her “girls”—Peggy, Carrie, Tash, and Melissa in particular—enjoyed exploring their new home, even climbing an oak tree to get a view of the sanctuary. Thelma enjoyed her retirement to the fullest. She was often found lounging in a hammock, she loved pillows and blankets, and she savored the delicious food served to her by loving caregivers every day. Among her favorite foods were papaya, nuts, and raisins, and although she didn’t sign often, she would always demand a drink if she spotted a bottle of Gatorade!

Thelma was a respected member of her family, and she was always watchful and protective of them. She liked to be the last one in for meals, always going out to round up any stragglers who were late for dinner, and she was the first one out the door to head back outside as soon as the meal was over. She was sensitive if a family member wasn’t feeling well, and made sure the rowdy boys didn’t cause trouble for anyone under the weather. Her devoted caregivers noted that she often appeared deep in thought, and they wondered what she was thinking as they gazed into her beautiful eyes.

Thelma, like so many captive chimps, developed heart disease which took her from us, but reunited her with her friends Peggy and Carrie who had gone before her.

Stu and Thelma met on at least one occasion during their tenure at LEMSIP, as evidenced by their daughter Martina, who is a resident of the Primate Rescue Center. Stu and Thelma live on in her, and in our hearts and minds.

Rest in peace Stu & Thelma. We love you.

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh