Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Valerie A. Kirk, affectionately known as Dr. Val, had one pressing concern: to examine each and every chimp in the sanctuary in order to establish a baseline for individualized care.

However, once it became evident human-to-chimp transmission of the virus was a potential threat, the sanctuary had to switch gears. Much stricter biosecurity protocols were instituted and instead of continuing well-being exams, the vet team restricted exams to urgent or emergent cases.

“Even though the strict COVID-19 biosecurity protocols have modified how we provide care at Save the Chimps,” Dr. Val said, “it has not stopped us from continuing to provide high quality care.”

All employees at Save the Chimps have adjusted to the extra PPE requirements because everyone wants to minimize the potential of exposing the chimps. “The cost of care for our precious chimps has increased,” added Dr. Val, “but we know it’s worth it and it’s part and parcel to providing the best in chimp care.”

Dr. Val unmasked

An alumna of Texas A&M University, Dr. Val served as a small animal clinician for 24 years, and founded her own practice. Additionally, for 16 years, she cared for a large variety of nonhuman primates, from marmosets to apes.

But chimpanzees were always her first love. When she saw Save the Chimps looking for a full-time vet in 2017, she described it as a dream come true.

“We look forward to resuming exams and dental care, which are so important in maximizing quality of life. Everyone here, regardless of which department they serve in, misses being able to work directly with the chimps.”

With the increased availability of human vaccines, and a little luck, Dr. Val and her staff can hopefully do that soon.


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