A Look at Jon Stryker’s Massive, Long-Term Support for Chimpanzee Sanctuaries

Jon Stryker’s Arcus Foundation is the largest private backer of great ape conservation. It all started with one chimpanzee sanctuary, to which Arcus has given $26 million in just the past 10 years.

We’ve written at length about the LGBT and social justice philanthropy of Jon Stryker, worth just north of $2.2 billion, stemming from a medical equipment inheritance. He’s one of the most prominent funders of such work, with Arcus specifically targeting settings in the U.S. and internationally where the LGBT community are particularly marginalized. 

Related: Arcus Foundation: Grants for LGBT

But Stryker’s giving to conservation, while not quite as large, is just as impressive. Arcus has developed a reputation as a world leader in philanthropy for great apes both in captivity and in the wild, not to mention some broader wildlife funding. 

One of Arcus’s biggest grantees by a mile is Save the Chimps, which runs the largest chimpanzee sanctuary in the world. Stryker and the organization's late founder Carole Noon teamed up in the late 1990s and started small, but have expanded the operation dramatically since then. 

Arcus funding for Save the Chimps has scaled back somewhat over the years as the organization has worked toward greater financial sustainability—it’s entirely donation-supported—but still gave $1.8 million in its recently awarded spring 2016 grants docket. Stryker has backed the sanctuary since 1999, and just since 2007 has granted $26 million, maxing out at around $3.2 million in annual support. For perspective, the organization's 2015 budget was $5.6 million.  

Stryker’s role in the sanctuary can’t be overstated, as he worked closely with Noon to build capacity as increasing numbers of chimpanzees were released from captivity in the entertainment and biomedical industries. While once very common in government and other research, the use of chimpanzees as test subjects has been largely deemed unnecessary, and the practice has dropped off. Originally, Noon started Save the Chimps to rescue a group being released by the U.S. Air Force, but was working with very few resources. Stryker had always had an interest in wildlife, and apes in particular, and when he found out about the Florida-based group, contacted Noon to help. 

Arcus’s great apes program was born after Stryker realized the extent of the problem of great apes left homeless after lifetimes of medical testing or poor treatment in entertainment. The organization now has facilities in Florida and New Mexico, after taking over an entire primate research lab that went bankrupt. 

Save the Chimps now has more than 250 chimpanzees living out their days in a sprawling natural habitat.

Meanwhile, Arcus has expanded its funding for great ape conservation to more than $10.4 million in 2014, more than a third of its total grantmaking. The dual focus of the foundation might not seem to match up at a glance, but for Arcus, it's all about diversity in both people and nature, and respecting the "worth and dignity of all life."