Save the Chimps Sanctuary Director Jen Feuerstein talks to Dylan... (Elva K. sterreich/Daily News)

In 2000, Carole Noon sued the Air Force. She won when her case was settled out of court in 2001.

Noon's legacy is tied to her love of fairness and sense of what is right for those "people" who have served the needs of humankind - chimpanzees.

In 1997, Noon founded Save the Chimps to find a solution for animals that have been experimented with, left in facilities with a bare minimum of care and to die.

On Saturday, May 2, 2009, Noon died following a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

Her dream continues: moving all the chimps from the former Coulston Foundation facility in Alamogordo to the series of islands in Florida, which make up the largest sanctuary for chimpanzees that were once exploited by laboratories, entertainment and the pet trade.

Jen Feuerstein has been appointed sanctuary director by the Save the Chimps board and continues the work Noon began.

Feuerstein first came to Alamogordo to volunteer for Save the Chimps shortly after Noon took possession. In February 2003, Feuerstein became the director of operations of the New Mexico facility and, since Noon died, now directs both locations.

The organization is still in the process of moving the chimps in Alamogordo to the Florida sanctuary, Feuerstein said. When the job is done, 266 chimps will have migrated from New Mexico to Florida, including the original 21 chimps Noon was given in 2001 from the Air Force.

During Noon's negotiating with the Air Force, she had established a relationship with Dr. Fred Coulston and the Coulston Foundation, a biomedical research facility to which the Air Force had given almost 300 of it's chimps.

When Coulston's facility became financially troubled and was unable to maintain itself, Coulston contacted Noon to see if she wanted to rescue the animals housed there.

On Sept. 16, 2002, the entire Alamogordo facility was transferred toNoon's care. These "people" were kept in concrete cells, some for 40 years or more. They had no access to touch or see other chimps. They could only hear one another.

Noon immediately began to improve the chimps lives, Feuerstein said. The first improvement was in their diet.

"They received three meals of fresh fruits and veggies (per day)," Feuerstein said. "We put in skylights, gave them toys and blankets and cleaned their cages every day."

Then Save the Chimps added extensions to the cages and cut doors through the six inches of concrete separating the animals "so the chimps in (Building) 300 could see and touch each other for the first time," she said.

"We still have 123 chimps here," Feuerstein said. "We are moving about 30 more this year and are expecting to be moved out by 2011."

Before being set loose on the individual islands prepared for them, the chimps have to be socialized, she said. In New Mexico, they are working with the animals to form family groups.

One of Feuerstein's favorite memories of her work with Noon is the day the first big group of chimps set off from Alamogordo to Florida.

"I rode on the road with the chimps," she said. "It was really meaningful to start the process with her (Noon). It was the initiation of her dream to get them to Florida."

Feuerstein said Noon loved watching the chimps take their first steps onto the island that was to become their home.

"She watched them touch the grass for the first time," Feuerstein said. "She loved those moments. It gave her a big thrill."

Funding for Save the Chimps comes from donations from the public, Feuerstein said. The Arcus group in Kalamazoo, Mich., also supports the cause.

"We need a large base of support," she said. "Save the Chimps is not just based on hope, we have to fund-raise."

Save the Chimps operations and maintenance cost $4 million a year.

There are 30 staff members still in New Mexico and 45 working at the Florida sanctuary. Noon's dedication inspired the people who work for the organization.

"Carole had an infectious love for chimps," Feuerstein said. "She would light up when she was around the chimps. The staff here love these chimps as much. They are 100 percent devoted to (the chimps)."

Alamogordo staff member Kathy Gardner is one of the inspired. When she started the job, she and several others were called to meet Noon in the kitchen.

"I thought I was in trouble," Gardner said. "But we drove to the back of a building and she let the babies (chimps) out (into an enclosure)."

Gardner had the rare chance to actually go in and play with the little chimps. Something that is rarely allowed and she will remember fondly all her life. The experience really made her feel like part of the team.

"I don't think I could ask for a better boss," she said of Noon. "She was always there for the employees, who always come first ... except for the chimps, of course."

The Florida sanctuary is not open to the public, Feuerstein said, because Noon felt the chimps have had enough taken of them. But Noon also felt education was important so, when the project of moving the chimps is complete, Save the Chimps will build an education center at Fort Pierce, Fla. The organization will also focus on other chimps who need help.

"There are a lot more who need to be rescued," she said.

There are still 1,100 chimps in laboratories in the United States and 225 in private ownership, Feuerstein said.

"Carole felt we are all interconnected," Feuerstein said. "We are all part of this planet. These are our closest non-human relatives. If we can's have compassion for them, how can we have compassion for anyone?"

Contact Elva K. Österreich at

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