“They sit and look around. They look up at the sky. To me, they seem to be thinking, ‘There’s no bars.’”
– Amy Fultz
Chimp Haven’s Behaviour and Education Program Manager
On January 22, 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States announced that it will be phasing out funding for research involving chimpanzees. Of the 451 federally owned chimps, 111 will be transferred to Chimp Haven in Louisiana over the next 18 months.
To write this blog post, I read through a number of articles on the web about these chimps (and if you haven’t read it already, check out Cadell Last’s excellent post about the NIH’s decision), but I still wasn’t sure what to say. I missed my deadline, in fact. I don’t really know why I drew such a blank—I mean, this is good news; it’s a happy story—but I couldn’t quite figure out what to write about these chimps and their new freedom. Some of the chimps had actually been taken from the wild, so they wouldn’t have been in a natural setting for decades. Others were born into research, so they would never have walked on the ground or climbed a tree in their lives. Getting them to Chimp Haven and giving them the chance to live like chimps is undoubtedly a big deal.
I tried to think of some other examples that I had come across of animals realizing that they are suddenly free. What came to my mind first (and still chokes me up a bit, to be honest) was the story of a 40-year-old elephant who was brought to a sanctuary in Thailand. She had an injured foot due to a landmine accident several years earlier, and when she arrived at the sanctuary, she tried to show her foot to the owner in a plea not to work her too hard…but there was no work for her there. No more pain. Just life as an elephant. The sanctuary ended up posting pictures and updates about the elephant’s progress, and I am telling you that you could see the joy in her eyes. It was as clearly expressed in her as it would be in any human. She knows that she is safe, and she knows that her old life is in the past.
It was that sweet realization of freedom that I wanted to portray in this post.
Well, ask and you shall receive. Call it serendipity, but Chimp Haven posted a video on March 4th of some of the chimps arriving at the sanctuary. Watch their faces as they look up at the unobstructed sky and feel the earth underneath them for the first time. I’m glad that I had a touch of writer’s block because the video is worth thousands and thousands of my words. Enjoy.