Do You Have What it Takes to Work for a Primate Sanctuary? An Interview with Save the Chimps

By Paula Fitzsimmons with J. Christopher Scott

If you’re an animal advocate, you’ve likely heard of The Great Chimpanzee Migration – the nine-year undertaking in which chimps “donated” by the Coulston Foundation were transported from New Mexico to their new sanctuary home in Florida. The organization that took on this monumental task is Save the Chimps, a sanctuary now situated on 150 acres in sub-tropic Fort Pearce.

Accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries – considered by many in the animal rescue community to be the gold standard of sanctuary animal care – Save the Chimps is one of a handful of sanctuaries in the United States providing chimpanzees with life-long, quality care. Most of these magnificent creatures were used in biomedical research (such as that performed by Coulston’s lab), as well as for the “entertainment”  and “pet” industries.

If you get a chance, I recommend picking up a copy of Opening Doors by Gary Ferguson – this book offers a captivating look at founder Carole Noon’s vision for Save the Chimps.

J. Christopher Scott is Human Resource Generalist & Executive Assistant at Save the Chimps.

J. Christopher Scott is Human Resource Generalist & Executive Assistant at Save the Chimps.

The sanctuary employs more than 40 workers – including administrators, program managers, and of course, caregivers – who care for more than 250 individuals. One of these employees is J. Christopher Scott, Human Resource Generalist & Executive Assistant. If working with great apes (or for any sanctuary) is your career goal, Christopher’s insights are a must-read.

With some minor editing on my part, here is a look at what Save the Chimps seeks in candidates . . .

What Save the Chimps looks for in applicants

We look for employees with tortoise-like determination, the dependability and intelligence of an elephant, the quick-thinking reflexes of a tiger, and the personality of a puppy. Obviously we want the best folks for the job – but that doesn’t just mean the best qualified – it means the best fit for our needs (and the needs of the chimpanzees)!

How to Stand Apart From Others

Standing a giraffe’s length above the competition can be tough- animal care is an increasingly competitive field. However, there are some ways to make a splash!

An education that directly relates to the job you’re applying for is helpful, but so are internships, long-term volunteer opportunities, and job experience. These all show a long-term interest in the subject matter.

Animals aren’t paperwork, and it can effect them if you walk away from your position. While all of these things might get your name noticed, one of the easiest ways to gallop ahead of the competition is with a fantastic interview.

We hire a large number of caregivers. ‘Care’ is actually in the job title. Friendliness, openness and an eagerness to learn more about what our sanctuary does – and how you can contribute – is a great way to make a good impression. Positive people who avoid gossip and other monkey business are great applicants – we’ll be listening if you badmouth your last employer.

Two Chimpanzees
On What’s a Turnoff in an Applicant

Anyone who is harsh or difficult to work with may not be the best fit for a company that specializes in care. Candidates who are overly interested in pay and less interested in care quality also won’t make it very far.

Most importantly, if you had a position in the past the required some degree of animal mistreatment, whether in the food or laboratory settings, you’d better have a really great cover letter outlining why you’d like to get away from that kind of thing!

Lastly, appearance isn’t everything, but you should be neatly dressed in well-kept clothing. You may be interacting with guests or donors at some point, so make sure your appearance is tasteful and respectful!


So, what are your thoughts? Think you’re up to working for a primate sanctuary? Animal welfare organizations like Save the Chimps want employees with outstanding worth ethics and attitudes. And rightfully so . . .these creatures have been through so much – which is why they deserve the very best people in charge of their care.

This is the third installment in this series. To learn what it takes to get a job at a . . .

• parrot sanctuary, read “Do You Have What it Takes to Work for a Parrot Rescue Organization? An Interview With Foster Parrots”.

• wildlife advocacy organization, read “Do You Have What it Takes to Work for a Wildlife Advocacy Organization? An Interview with Born Free”.


Image credits: Top chimpanzee 30495389 (minus type and additional design) and two chimpanzees 30495054 from

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