Posts Tagged ‘Animal Welfare’

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 memory of Jean Davidson

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Today’s day of sanctuary was sponsored in memory of Jean Davidson. Today’s sponsor shared this lovely message about her gift for the chimpanzees:

“Jean was a wonderful friend who lived to celebrate her 100th birthday. She loved animals, and would have celebrated the seven chimpanzees I’ve fallen in love with!”

To our sponsor, thank you so much for thinking of the chimpanzees in honoring Jean’s memory. I think we would all hope to be remembered by our friends and loved ones in such a thoughtful and meaningful way. It’s incredible to think about the difference each life makes. The people one person can bring together in the most unexpected ways and whose life continues to make a difference to so many, even after they’ve gone.

In celebration of our sponsor, her dear friend, Jean, and of course, the chimpanzees, it seems fitting to revisit the joy that can only ensue with Burrito’s patented “Blanket Fling”:









Today is for Hope, Love, Home and Sanctuary

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

This day of sanctuary was also sponsored by our good friend, Kathleen Corby, in honor of two very special occasions. Today we celebrate both the honorary 42nd birthday of sanctuary royalty, Queen Negra, and the chimpanzees’ 7th year anniversary in sanctuary! Kathleen shared her beautiful and heartfelt sentiments about today’s celebrations:

“I would like to make two donations for the same day. One donation goes to NEGRA on her 42nd BIRTHDAY. Let me state that I do not have a “favorite” chimpanzee. I admire, respect, and care for each individual equally — quirks and all. But there is something about Negra. Negra instantly captured my heart and I never saw it coming. When I see a photo of Negra or read about her on your blog I often find myself with a catch in the back of my throat, a slight pang in my heart, (sometimes a tear in my eye!) and I experience this fuzzy little feeling. Ah Negra!

This year I want to thank Negra for giving me such pleasure and for teaching me that it is okay to take your time as you embark on a new path. She has shown me that trust, in others and in ourselves, should be afforded the time and nurturing it needs to blossom. Trust is very precious and the offering or earning of trust needs to be handled delicately.

Negra also taught me that you can never count an old gal out! This year she rallied with the best of them, finding new comforts in Foxies trolls and now in her “France Dora” doll. Negra has proven her bravery by venturing out onto Young’s Hill to forage, enjoying time alone in the tall grasses while eating and relaxing in the warm sunshine. I feel so very lucky to be able to witness Negra’s progress into her brave new world and I am grateful that at this stage in her life she has CSNW to allow her these experiences and freedoms. Happy birthday dear Negra. May this entire year unfold before you day by day offering new delights with the passing of time. XOXOXO.

My second donation is in CELEBRATION of the 7 years of SANCTUARY for 7 amazing CHIMPANZEES (and all the care givers, past and current, who make sanctuary happen)! Happy Anniversary to all. I look forward to the future plans of CSNW becoming a reality. On this day I celebrate your passion and compassion. Thank you for educating, inspiring, and connecting us all into one community of people who want to improve the quality of life for chimpanzees. CSNW truly is HOPE. LOVE. HOME. SANCTUARY. Much love always, Kathleen Corby.”

Kathleen, you have embraced each of the chimpanzees and welcomed them into your heart in countless ways. Though it may be from afar, your support and engagement in their lives, and in each step they take toward becoming more fully themselves, is inspiring. We are immensely grateful to have you as part of our chimp family and thank you so much for sponsoring such a special day full of celebration!

Happy Birthday, Negra! We love you!!

Negra close-up

And Happy 7th Anniversary Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy and Negra! May all your days continue to be filled with love, respect, joy and comfort. And may you live each day knowing you are home. We could not possibly love each of you more.








2013 Jamie





New Adventures for Negra

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

The Negra we know so well is happiest when snuggled up with a pile of blankets. She likes warmth and comfort and predictability, and avoids unnecessary exertion. You would not call her adventurous. She usually looks like this:


But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees, it’s this: Never assume you’ve got someone figured out. Seven years after arriving at the sanctuary from the research lab, these chimps are still changing, growing, and surprising us.

Over the last few days, Negra has established what looks to be a new routine for herself. After lunch, she marches confidently outside, walks all the way to the top of Young’s Hill, and stations herself in the tall grass to munch on some wild plants.


This may not seem remarkable, but for Negra, it’s huge. She is not an outdoors person. She doesn’t like wind or rain or too much sun or too little sun. She has always been uneasy in the wide open spaces of Young’s Hill, and she prefers to stay near the bottom of the hill next to the chimp house so she can rush inside to safety at a moment’s notice. She must feel very small out there.


It’s hard to say what accounts for Negra’s newfound serenity, but we hope it’s just the first step toward her world opening up a little more.


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!


Serious face

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Yesterday, Elizabeth posted this great blog about Jamie—if you missed it, definitely check it out.

Normally, I try not to post about the same chimpanzee two days in a row, just to keep things varied, but I took some photos of the Boss today and couldn’t resist putting them on the blog. Jamie was just chillin’ in the greenhouse this afternoon, demonstrating her serious face.

After I took these photos, she came down to take a look at them. She seemed to approve, so I figured they were good to go!







Handsome Mr. B

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

I went out to the greenhouse this afternoon to snap a few photos of the chimpanzees—most of whom were lounging in hard-to-see spots, so I was out of luck. However, front and center was Mr. Burrito, looking handsome as ever.





Annie Evolving

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Annie was not brimming with confidence when she arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. (This is an understatement.) She had a couple of things working against her: her position at the very bottom of the social hierarchy, and decades of history in research labs during which she lived in fear and frequent pain. She had every reason to believe that the world was not kind.

During her early days at the sanctuary, Annie had regular anxiety attacks. If she felt threatened by another chimpanzee, or sometimes for no discernible reason at all, she would throw herself on the ground while screaming and flailing. She was glued to her best friend Missy’s side, and would become noticeably agitated if they were separated. At the sanctuary she was given space to roam, other chimps to play with, nourishing food, and caregivers who adore her. But she was not at ease.

Fast forward almost seven years, and Annie is a different person.


She has shed her old demons and has been hard at work building a whole new Annie. This new Annie is filled with peace and joy and wonder. She plays with friends and stands up for herself during family disagreements and claps her feet and makes bird noises and is not afraid of solitude.


This new Annie greets the world with a glint in her eye.


It’s a jungle out there

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Okay, so, not quite a jungle—but the grass is very tall on Young’s Hill and the weeds are at the perfect stage for chimp snacking! Everyone has been on the hill a lot today, Negra was even out there on her own for awhile!

Even after nearly seven years in sanctuary, we still see the chimpanzees growing and truly coming into their own. I find that no matter how many times we see the chimps on the hill, it will never, ever get old. It’s still so awesome to see them outside, in their element foraging for tasty snacks, and sometimes even venturing to a point where we can’t see them!

It’s moments like those that make us reflect on how incredible sanctuary is and how much you all have really changed the lives of the Cle Elum Seven. Young’s Hill would not have been possible without generous gifts from supporters such as yourselves, and the exciting new projects we have in mind would never be able to get off the ground if it weren’t for our remarkable CSNW family. Words could really never say how much your support means to us, or to the chimpanzees, but maybe a few pictures can.

Jody in the grass jungle:





Negra, all on her own munching on some grass and weeds:







We are gearing up for our HOOT! gala in a couple weeks—the biggest fundraiser of the year, where folks can help sustain the sanctuary and support more indescribable moments like Jody getting lost in the grass jungle, and Negra hanging out on the hill all on her own for some delicious dandelion greens.

This year, I have been helping get all the auction items organized and ready for the big night. I’m astounded by all the wonderful items that have been donated! We have a preview site available, so check that out and decide now what you plan to bid on!


Join us May 30th for a fun night and learn more about the last seven years of moments!

Good Clean Fun

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Today after cleaning the playroom, we put a small drop of non-toxic dish soap in the pool and filled it up with water. The chimpanzees all enjoy soapy water. Jamie sometimes uses it to scrub the floor, while others like to take big mouthfuls of it. They seem to like the sensation of the foamy bubbles in their mouths. There’s no denying it – bubbles are just fun.