Posts Tagged ‘animal rights’

Chimpanzee Strength

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Chimpanzees are naturally incredibly strong. This physical strength, combined with their tendency towards sudden aggression that J.B. touched on in his blog post yesterday, cautions humans who work around chimpanzees to be very, very careful. This is why when you do a quick internet search on “chimpanzee muscle strength,” the resulting articles are often tied to a report on a human who was attacked by a chimpanzee.

The text of this article from 2012 after an attack is particularly helpful in providing information about why chimpanzees are so strong, explaining that the muscle fibers closest to the bones are much longer and more dense in chimpanzees than humans, presumably making those muscles much more powerful.

When the chimpanzees arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in 2008, their muscles were atrophied or had never fully developed from lack of use, but all of the chimpanzees were still stronger (in many ways) than any of us humans could ever hope to be.

Jody Before

Jody on the day she arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

I often wonder what it felt like to use those muscles exploring their new sanctuary home. To feel them engage while running and climbing and displaying, and then to feel their strength building over time.

chimpanzees climbing


It must have felt both strange and exhilarating.


Here’s a tribute to respecting chimpanzee strength with some muscle shots of each of the chimpanzees at the sanctuary:


Annie’s shoulders:

Annie walking


We got a clear  view of Burrito’s chest muscles after he was shaved for his medical exam this past summer:

Burrito bare chest


Even petite Foxie has incredible upper body strength:

Foxie close-up arm muscles


Hanging like this doesn’t take much effort at all by Jamie:

Jamie hanging


Jody’s certainly not the most athletic chimpanzee, but, when motivated, she uses those muscles to get her where she wants to go:

Jody climbing


Same with Negra – she doesn’t tend to exert any more energy than necessary, but she’s pretty buff even under her more “squishy” parts:

Negra arm

Negra climbing


And then there’s Missy, who uses her muscles, particularly her strong legs, as often as she can:

Missy tightrope

Missy's leg

The Winter’s Calm for One Chimpanzee

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

I think that of all of the seven chimpanzees at the sanctuary, Annie could be described as most like a poet. She can frequently be seen in serene moments by herself, seemingly lost in thought.

Today, while I was busy filming Missy in the greenhouse, I realized that Annie had been outside for quite some time alone, so I ventured into the snow to see what she was up to.

To highlight her inner poetic nature, I found this poem to pair with the photos of Annie below:

Winter is the slow-down
Winter is the search for self
Winter gives the silence you need to listen
Winter goes gray so you can see your own colors…
~Terri Guillemets


Annie snow background


Annie look away


Annie profile 2


Annie sit



Annie profile, arms crossed


Annie look camera

These resilient spirits

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Foxie has become quite the celebrity. As Diana mentioned in her blog post several days ago, the story of Foxie’s history, her life in the lab, and her subsequent discovery of her love for troll dolls and Dora the Explorer and has been shared in The Dodo and the Huffington Post. Since then her story continues to travel the globe and has been seen in the Daily Mail, KOMO News, the Berliner Kurier to name a few, and most recently, ABC News. And it seems there’s more to come! We are thrilled to see Foxie’s story being shared and the opportunity for so many people to learn about all that she has overcome since arriving to her sanctuary home.


As the stories relate, and you may be aware, Foxie was used in part as a “breeder” during her time in biomedical research (in addition to being used in hepatitis vaccination research, as were Annie, Burrito, Jamie, Jody, Missy and Negra). Foxie gave birth to four children, two daughters and two sons, a rare set of twins. All of whom were taken from her immediately, or shortly after birth, to continue their own lives being used as research subjects.

It’s hard to imagine such unfathomable loss and suffering. And yet, most of us can relate on some level. I think that is why Foxie’s story touches so many of us. And the fact that she has become so enamored with her beloved trolls and Dora the Explorer only appeals that much more to our hearts. While the dolls of course, will never make up for the loss of Foxie’s children, knowing that she’s found something that makes her heart light up and upon occasion direct her mothering instincts toward is immensely heartwarming.

But something that I hope also comes from this opportunity for more people to learn about Foxie’s story, is the opportunity for more people to learn about other chimpanzees with her history. For as truly special as Foxie and her story are, this is the story of every chimpanzee in biomedical research, and in fact, for every animal in biomedical research. This is the story of animals in the entertainment and pet industries, factory farming, and countless other arenas where animals’ lives, intelligence, emotions, families, communities, and well-being are seen as less valuable than ours.

Every time I see someone’s heart and mind open up when they learn of Foxie’s story, I am given hope that those who feel inclined to do so will seek out more information, ask questions, and consider how they can make a difference in the lives of others by the choices they make in their own. Because I can tell you, no matter how small you might feel what you have to offer is, it can make a huge difference to someone else.

This story is also that of Annie, Missy, Jody and Negra who also had their children stolen from them in the same manner. All of their children have been deprived of being raised and nurtured by their mother, being part of a chimpanzee family in which they learn important social skills and experience family bonding. Annie gave birth to 7 children, Jody gave birth to 9 children, Missy gave birth to 3 children and had one miscarriage, and Negra gave birth three children. And although Jamie and Burrito are not parents to any children we are aware of, they are not exempt from the devastating loss of family.

By this time, you might be thinking, “Katelyn, we don’t want to read all of this heartbreaking stuff!” I get that. But I also invite you to look beyond the painful things toward what you have helped provide these chimpanzees and hopefully, those to come in the future. All around us are examples of how resilient the human spirit is. And thanks to you, we get to see on a daily basis how resilient the chimpanzees’ spirits are when given the space to heal. They inspire me every single day. In short, they are my heroes. I am grateful to my bones that they each finally get the opportunity to find things that make their hearts and souls sing. Whether it’s a cowgirl boot, open spaces to run to one’s hearts content, a best friend, fresh food, a cozy blanket nest, or yes, a troll or Dora doll.  Thanks to you, each one of these very special people is provided with love, care, dignity and family.

Today, after a couple weeks of a seemingly endless wild rumpus of stormy weather, things have lulled and the sun even made an appearance. Annie, Foxie, Jody, and Missy were first onto the hill (yes, even before Jamie!) to stretch their legs and enjoy the fresh air. I watched them for a long time as they moved over the hill together, these chimpanzees who have become family for one another. Each enjoying their own activities, but staying within sight of one another, quick to offer backup or reassurance over perceived threats to their home, in this case, barking pups below and hawks calling out above. (Jamie eventually sauntered right past me and headed off to patrol the perimeter all on her own and Burrito chose to enjoy the greenhouse).

Annie enjoyed a long awaited sit in the sun. I love how relaxed her hands are and my heart melted a little when she sat gazing up at the sky.




Jody (above) and Foxie (below) checked out the entire length of structures together:

web_jody_shaky_bridge_ foxie_below_kd_IMG_6976

Just as Jody was headed back in after her stroll on the hill, she stopped on high alert and ran to back-up Missy from the dreaded dog barking.





Jody and Missy patrolled the perimeter together and once it was certain the threats had been averted, Jody headed back to the warmer greenhouse and Missy continued exploring:


And Negra chose to remain comfy and warm in her nest, knowing all is well:


The traumas we are all inflicted with at some point in life always leave their marks. But so does hope. So does dignity. And so does love.

Today is for Deb Wagman!

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Today’s day of sanctuary was sponsored by Charlie Neath in honor of Deb Wagman! As some of you may know, Deb is one of our volunteer caregivers and she and her husband, Bruce (a dedicated member of our Board of Directors) are two amazing humans who do so much to make a difference in the lives of so many animals. Charlie has been a supporter of the chimpanzees and the humans and animals endearingly known as “the Wagmanagerie” for a long time and shared this simple and lovely message about today:

“Deborah Wagman is my hero.” 

Charlie, thank you so much for giving both Deb and the chimpanzees a special day! We truly appreciate you thinking of all of them today.

And Deb, you are a special soul who brings a lot of light to a lot of lives, both human and non. May all of that come back to you tenfold. Human hugs, chimp kisses and much love to you!

Jamie, from one amazing woman to another:


Today is for Bruce!

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

This day of sanctuary was sponsored by Charlie Neath in honor of Bruce Wagman! Bruce and his wife, Deb, have been compassionate and committed advocates for the chimpanzees and volunteer their time with the sanctuary in countless ways. Bruce serves as a member of our Board of Directors helping to ensure the chimpanzees’ are provided with the quality lives and security they deserve. He works tirelessly to improve the lives of so many of the special animals we share our lives with and we couldn’t be more honored to have he and Deb as part of our sanctuary family.

In knowing Bruce, Charlie’s message about sponsoring this day in his honor is simple yet apropos: “Bruce Wagman: ’nuff said.” And we would throw in lots of loud and raucous pant-hoots to go along with that!

Charlie, thanks so much for honoring Bruce today while making a difference in the lives of the chimps he does so much for.

And Bruce, we could never thank you enough for all you do to make this world a better place for the amazing animals (and humans!) who we share it with. Have the best of days!


Happy Birthday, John!

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Today’s day of sanctuary was also sponsored by Juliana Olmstead, along with family and friends, in celebration of her boyfriend, John Barbagallo, on his birthday! Juliana organized a fundraiser for John through Crowd Rise in which all proceeds will be donated to the chimpanzees! Juliana shared this message about today:

“John Barbagallo’s friends and family are sponsoring this day in honor of his 40th birthday. John has been passionate about animal rescue for many years, and his birthday wish was to make a contribution to this amazing sanctuary.”

Juliana, and John’s friends and family, thank you so much! This is such a fantastic idea and we are so touched that you all would come together to do something so special for John and the chimpanzees.

John, thank you so much for your compassion and dedication to the amazing animal beings we share the earth with. We so appreciate you sharing your own special day with the chimpanzees and all of you making a difference in their lives. All of the primates here at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest wish you a happy birthday full of pant-hoots and food grunts. Just channel your inner Burrito if you need help with the latter:

Burrito eating breakfast night bag

Today is in honor of Beate

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Today’s day of sanctuary was sponsored by Birgit Neher to honor her sister, Beate, “for all she does for the animals.” Beate, thank you so much for your rescue work with animals! We hope you have a beautiful day and may all the love and care you provide to so many special beings come back to you tenfold.

Birgit, thank you for thinking of the chimpanzees in honoring Beate today. What a lovely way to celebrate! We are so grateful to you both for making a difference in the lives of animals, and for extending your compassion to include the chimpanzees.

Jody enjoying a moment of summer solitude in the tall grass on Young’s Hill:


The gift of Annie

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

For weeks, no, months, I have had the idea to do “A Day in the Life of…” each of the chimpanzees on the blog. Seems simple enough, right? Well, when you consider each individual chimp, their moods and varying preferences for being photographed (let alone being followed around all day by a photographer), not to mention all the things that can occur during a day working in the chimp house, it’s not as simple as I’d envisioned. Case in point: Annie. Attempting to be systematic in my approach, I’ve wanted to start with her. Beautiful, dear, sweet Annie, who doesn’t always prefer to have her photo taken or is often running at mach speed with her best friend, Missy. So my idea keeps getting pushed to the back burner of the blog.

But I’ve found myself thinking of Annie a lot these past days because her son, Virgil, (who resides at Save the Chimps) celebrated his birthday this week. Annie gave birth to her first son, Tobias, when she was just a child herself, probably a mere 9 years old. In the wild, chimpanzees typically have their first child around the age of 14. But being used in the labs as a “breeder” Annie was forced to begin breeding with many males starting at the age of 7. All for the purpose of supplying more chimpanzees for biomedical testing. Over the next decade, Annie gave birth to six more babies – Abby, Petra, Brooke, Virgil, Mariah and Damien. Two of her children, Virgil and Mariah, who both are so fortunate to be living at Save the Chimps in Florida, are her only living offspring. Tobias (Chimp Haven) and Damian (Save the Chimps) were also fortunate to have made it to sanctuary, but have sadly passed away. Petra, we believe, passed away while still at New Iberia Research Center (NIRC), and sadly, we don’t have much information on Abby or Brooke, but believe they have passed away as well.

Annie was never allowed to care for her babies for more than a few days. In each case she was anesthetized and her children were taken from her and moved to the nursery to be raised by humans until they were, themselves, used as lab subjects. Chimpanzees are highly invested in the raising of their children, much like humans, and under natural circumstances chimpanzee mothers will nurse their infants until they are 4-5 years of age. Their bond is incredibly strong and often remains so throughout their lives.

One of the things I love most about looking at photos of the chimpanzees’ children, are seeing their mothers in them. In the gaze of their eyes, their smiles, the way they hold their body, or even certain mannerisms. To see that even though their histories are tragic, their mothers are there with them in some way. I love seeing beautiful Annie in her son Virgil (photo credited to Save the Chimps):




Annie’s history is devastating. To revisit it, however briefly, takes the breath out of me every time. Annie’s history is not unique to the chimpanzees residing here, nor is it unique to all chimpanzees who have suffered, or suffer still from a life in biomedical research labs, entertainment or the pet industry. But I choose to revisit it today not to feel sorry for her, but to celebrate her. To pay honor the incredible person she is. The internal strength and resilience of spirit that speaks to who she really is. Her ability to find joy in her life each day, to increasingly overcoming the sometimes debilitating anxiety she demonstrated when she first arrived here, and her finding enough comfort in her own skin to enjoy peace and solitude.

Annie’s ability to do these things never excuses what was done to, and stolen from, her. But she is not a victim. She is a strong, intelligent, resilient, sweet, gentle, loving soul. A sweet soul who took another step away from her past this morning and for the first time (with me) flopped on the floor and asked me to tickle her head and ears, laughing all the while. This amazing chimpanzee woman is a gift to us all. It’s a gift for her to be able to share herself with us and for us to be able to witness her healing. But more importantly, it’s a gift for her to live her life in peace, and to be her amazing self, each moment of every day. And none of this would be possible without you.

So in celebration of Annie (as she enjoys a tea party):



And goodnight from Annie, yawning from her nest at the top of the greenhouse. Out there all on her own, her eyes growing heavy as she looks out over Young’s Hill and the summer breeze occasionally ruffles her hair:


Learn more about each of the chimpanzees’ history on our Eyes on Apes page and celebrate the amazing and unique individuals they truly are.

Today is in honor of Hercules and Leo

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Today’s day of sanctuary was sponsored by Danielle Gorshein in honor of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo. Danielle shared the following message about today:

“I am so inspired by the work of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. I have been a supporter for a while and recently read about two chimpanzee’s Hercules and Leo who are being held by SUNY Stony Brook in New York and there is work being done to free them. I feel terrible about this and sponsoring a day in honor of them is the least I can do. I am so happy you have a safe place for these special 7 to live out their days knowing what it means to be loved.”

Danielle, thank you so much for your compassion and desire to follow issues faced by our fellow primates! The case of Hercules and Leo is amazing and it’s thrilling to see such a shift and expansion in thoughts and attitudes occurring. We are so touched that you would think of the “Cle Elum Seven” in honoring Hercules and Leo today. We hold Hercules and Leo, and all those awaiting their life in sanctuary, in our hearts and minds.

You can learn more about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project and the case of Hercules and Leo here.

May all beings awaiting their sanctuary one day soon have a world view beyond their wildest imagination:


Negra building trust and HOOT! tonight

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Today is a big day for me—it is my last day as a staff caregiver at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. I am excited to say that I will be beginning a new position with an animal advocacy group where I can utilize all my skills I’ve learned while developing and working on the Eyes on Apes program and fighting for chimpanzees everywhere. It is not a goodbye for me, though—I will be working from home, which means I will remain very much apart of the lives of the Cle Elum Seven and their human friends, too! Sorry guys, you can’t get rid of me just yet 😉

Though I am not saying goodbye, I have been reflecting a lot lately on my time here at CSNW and the relationships I’ve built with the chimpanzees over the last seven years! I started as a volunteer just a couple months after the chimpanzees arrived and they stole my heart. At the time, I was a graduate student working with signing chimpanzees in Ellensburg (a similar background to many of the CSNW staff) but I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. Since chimpanzee caregiving jobs are few and far between, odds were that I would end up doing something completely unrelated. But as I spent more time at CSNW, seeing the chimpanzees change and grow in sanctuary, my career path became solidified. Words can truly never express how amazing it is to witness the incredible transformation and second chance that sanctuary can provide for chimpanzees.

Negra is a perfect example. She was stolen from her mother and captured from Africa as an infant, and then forced into research to be used in invasive vaccination testing for human diseases. She was also used a breeder, and had her three babies taken from her within days of birth. As if that wasn’t already bad enough, Negra was kept in complete isolation for nearly two years.

Negra has no grounds to trust humans. How could she? After everything that they had done to her—no one is surprised that she isn’t quick to trust someone. Negra’s changes in sanctuary have been very gradual, but we have seen a lot of growth. Negra from day one was (understandably) untrusting and preferred solitude. It became clear after a little while that Negra exhibited symptoms of someone with PTSD and depression. But as the years went by, we saw Negra playing—first with her chimpanzee friends, and then with humans! And she slowly became more trusting as well.

I learned very early on that Negra does not like to be touched. It is likely that she had several negative experiences in the lab, literally being poked and prodded, and so even a gentle knuckle rub would make her scream and run away. After some time, though, she would occasionally ask for a knuckle rub by offering her back to her caregivers. I remember the first time I gave Negra a knuckle rub I was almost in tears, just thinking about how long it took her to realize that she was safe here—and I would not hurt her.

Honestly, I’m not sure that she’s completely convinced of that fact. Just due to the sheer horror of her past, she has not fully moved on from those nightmares. Every once-in-a-while, something will startle Negra and the PTSD symptoms come through. As we started working on positive reinforcement training a little over a month ago, Negra was not thrilled with the sound of the clicker. Something about that sound associated with a bad memory for her, and she did not react very well at first. However, we were able to muffle the clicker sound by placing it in our pockets, and that seemed to work just fine. (And now she is fine without the muffle!) The next step was getting her comfortable with the target—the PVC tubes we use also were uncomfortable for her at first. After a few sessions though, she became more used to it, and realized that getting grapes and chow are totally worth touching that stupid stick. 😉

Ultimately, the positive reinforcement training is something that will be really incredible for Negra. We will be able to work up to a point where we can perform stress-free medical checks. And, if we ever needed to anesthetize her for any reason, we will be able to do so without any trauma, because she will have learned that presenting her shoulder for a poke results in a positive experience.

Since trust doesn’t come easy for her, and since she prefers routine over new things, I was worried that as her primary trainer, I would not be Negra’s biggest fan. However, I completely miscalculated how things would go. Instead of causing a strain on our relationship, training has made our friendship so much stronger. She has impressed me so much with her progress in our sessions, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. What I thought would take months, she has accomplished in just a few weeks. Negra not only confidently touches the target wherever I place it, but she also has started opening her mouth (a useful behavior for dental checks) and she is even presenting her shoulder.

Since this video was taken, she has become more reliable with the behaviors and is very comfortable with me touching her shoulder (even with a stick!)




Now that I’ve exhausted everyone with such a wordy post, here are a bunch of some of my favorite photos of Negra:


web Negra sweet sit next to cabin arms crossed YH IMG_4596

Negra look at pasture OA IMG_3782

web Negra funny lip close up outdoor area IMG_0112








Tonight, we will be celebrating the last seven years of sanctuary at our annual HOOT! gala event in Seattle. We will be sharing stories of the gradual changes and new experiences that sanctuary has given Queen Negra and her chimpanzee family (or should I say the royal subjects under her reign?)

There really is no better send-off for me headed into my new adventure than joining everyone tonight in this celebration of sanctuary. I look forward to seeing you all there!