Earlier this week, as volunteer Keri and I were finishing a walk around the hill with Jamie, we did some quick calculations to figure out just how far Jamie is walking each day. At a minimum, I think she is doing a mile a day just in walks with her caregivers – around an enclosure that rises 100 feet in elevation from end to end, no less. For a free-living chimpanzee, this wouldn’t be much, but for a chimpanzee who spent her life in a laboratory, it’s not bad at all.
The physical transformations that we’ve witnessed over the past five years have been incredible. After decades in tiny cages in a windowless basement, these seven chimps finally saw the sun, breathed fresh air, and got to run, climb, jump, and swing. Almost immediately, their skin darkened, their hair filled in, and their muscles grew stronger.
While most of these changes occurred over the first few months, we are still witnessing changes to this day. I think this is driven in part by their emotional recovery. This morning, as I watched Jamie run playfully after her friend Missy, I couldn’t help thinking about how much physical health and emotional health are intertwined. The stronger they get, the more they play and explore. And the more they play and explore, the stronger they get. I guess they call this a virtuous cycle.
When I look back at photos from the chimps’ arrival in 2008, I hardly recognize them. Their bodies displayed the toll of so many years in the laboratory, but in their faces you could see the even greater damage that was done to their spirits. They looked sick, tired, scared, and beaten down:
Five years in sanctuary can do a lot. Today, Jamie looks better in every imaginable way. And I’m sure she feels the same. Who knows what changes we’ll see in the next five years.