Cindy Tumiel

Stephen Tello isn’t as nimble as the chimpanzees that are destined to live in this dwelling, a spacious open-air edifice of reinforced steel with 20-foot-high ceilings, outfitted with natural grass carpeting and elaborate climbing structures.

But the executive director of the sanctuary Primarily Primates Inc. gamely tries, scaling a ladder and clambering about an elevated walkway built to withstand the force of animals that are five times stronger than the typical human.

The place is pretty close to perfect in Tello’s eyes. Just one thing is missing: the chimpanzees.

More coverage E-N video: Primarily Primates

They’re living blithely in a sanctuary in Louisiana, unknowingly part of a bitter legal battle over their fate that continues almost two years after they were retired from a cognitive research laboratory at Ohio State University.

Their transfer to Primarily Primates in spring 2006 was the spark that ignited controversy over conditions at the 30-year-old sanctuary that was one of the first to offer refuge to unwanted monkeys, chimps and other exotic animals that came from research laboratories or the pet trade.

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