Today, the chimps watched from the greenhouse as heavy rainstorms passed through Cle Elum. Rain is a rare occurrence here in the summer and while it puts a damper on the chimps’ outdoor activities, they seemed to welcome its return as much as we did. They curled up next to one another in cozy nests, lulled by the cool, humid air and the steady drum of rain on the greenhouse roof.
It was a very different reaction than the one we witnessed eight years ago, when the rains finally returned to Central Washington after their usual summer hiatus. Then, the chimps were just settling into their new life here at the sanctuary after living for decades in a windowless basement. As the first drops fell, the chimps rushed to the windows and doors to investigate. When the drizzle turned into a steady rain, the chimps let out deafening alarm calls. Alarm calls? At rain? We were momentarily stumped, until we remembered that the Cle Elum Seven hadn’t seen rain in decades – or for some, in their entire lives.
Days like this remind me of how much things have changed over the last eight years. These seven chimps have completely transformed before our very eyes. And while we watched them recover and grow and eventually thrive in sanctuary, their counterparts still in labs were granted new protections, first by the NIH and then by the Fish and Wildlife Service, effectively ending the era of chimpanzee research both in the United States and around the world.
These changes happened far more rapidly than I ever would have imagined. But while we’ve finally nudged the lines of our circle of moral concern ever-so-slightly to include chimpanzees, we still haven’t let go of the mindset that allowed Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy, and Negra to be locked away in the first place. That is, that when humans are concerned, the ends always justify the means. This was addressed in a powerful Op-Ed in the New York Times today by Dr. John Gluck, a former primate researcher and thoughtful advocate for our primate cousins. We had the pleasure of receiving a visit from John, along with the sanctuary’s good friend Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, earlier this summer. I urge you to read what he has to say, though I should warn you that the article includes two disturbing images.
When the rain subsided this afternoon, the chimps spilled back onto Young’s Hill. Jamie picked up where she left off, patrolling her territory, this time accompanied by Ellie the Elk. Missy ran and swung and climbed everything in sight. Others searched for food left over from the morning’s breakfast forage. And Negra, as you might have guessed, stayed tucked in her nest, dreaming of dinner. These chimps emerged from the darkness of their laboratory lives and found peace in sanctuary. They, and others like them, are now protected because people fought for them.
The 70,000 primates still in labs are counting on us to do the same for them.