Nearly ten years ago, we met these chimpanzees in the windowless basement of a laboratory where they had lived for decades, often alone. Each walk around Young’s Hill still feels like a small miracle.
It’s often said that healing is not a matter of forgetting, but of accumulating new memories that, over time, crowd out the bad ones.
If this is true, then Negra’s road to recovery began by replacing memories of powerlessness with ones of safety and predictability.
Soon, memories of love and friendship and family began to replace memories of loneliness.
Eventually, memories of courage and adventure pushed aside memories of fear and anxiety.
For some chimps, recovery is a long, steep climb. Thirty-five years in the lab leaves behind far too many memories.
Those memories will never be forgotten. But every time I see Negra absorbing the view from the top of Young’s Hill, I think of how far she’s come in these last eight years, and I hope that moment becomes yet another healing memory that pushes an old one further out of reach.
I was going to just post three photos of three amazing chimpanzees today (see photos below) with short captions, but I have been thinking about this CNN article all day. When I was looking at the photos, I thought even more about it.
The article, titled, “Chimps still stuck in research labs despite promise of retirement” is about the pronouncement the NIH made in June 2013 that they were going to retire all but 50 of the chimpanzees they owned to sanctuary. So far? Six have been retired and, according to the article, 24 have died.
It’s that last fact that really gets to me. Twenty four chimpanzees, who (unbeknownst to them) were potentially granted freedom from biomedical testing, died before they could experience a sanctuary life.
As things are right now, Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest could not take in retired NIH chimpanzees – Chimp Haven, a wonderful sanctuary in Louisiana, is the only sanctuary that has a contract with the government to retire NIH owned chimpanzees and therefore also the only sanctuary that receives federal funding.
But we know there are also over 400 chimpanzees who are privately “funded” by biomedical research institutions. They too deserve to know a life in a TRUE sanctuary, and they too are dying before they have that opportunity.
The NIH announcement a year and a half ago seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the use of chimpanzees in biomedical testing in the United States, but this means nothing to those individual chimpanzees who will spend the next however many days, months, or years waiting, only to die in a laboratory – never knowing there was an alternative life waiting for them.
I’m not going to pretend that I have the immediate solution to this problem. I know that many people are working on it, and it’s going to require a lot of trust, cooperation, and, especially, money. But, when I look into the eyes of the chimpanzees at CSNW who have known six and half years of a quality sanctuary life, it hurts to think of the chimpanzees out there waiting for the same chance.
We must maintain hope, however. And CSNW must work towards a future that includes retiring more chimpanzees at our sanctuary, whether from biomedical research or the pet and entertainment industries.
Their only hope lies with all of us.
Today is Jody’s 38th birthday. Around here, we celebrate the chimps’ birthdays just as we would our own – a day filled with gifts and activities centered around the birthday guy or gal. Throughout the day, Jody will make giant nests of blankets and straw, pick dandelions from Young’s Hill, and enjoy flowers brought by volunteers and staff. We hope it will be all that Jody could ask for and more. But Jody’s birthday is always bittersweet. Because we don’t know her actual date of birth, we celebrate Jody’s birthday on Mother’s Day as a tribute to the mother that she was and, sadly, could have been if she had been given the chance.
We know very little about Jody’s early years. We are told that she was born in 1975, though these dates are often guesses, and spent some time performing in a circus. Like all chimpanzees in entertainment, she eventually became too strong and willful to control, and at that point she was purchased by the Buckshire Corporation in Pennsylvania.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, demand was high for chimpanzees in the biomedical research community. Chimpanzees were being used to test experimental hepatitis vaccines and other pharmaceuticals, and with the emergence of HIV/AIDS the demand grew even higher. Buckshire purchased chimpanzees from breeders, importers, and circuses and then leased those chimpanzees out to laboratories for profit.
Buckshire leased their chimps primarily to two laboratories: White Sands Research Center, which later became the infamous Coulston Foundation, in New Mexico, and the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates, otherwise known as LEMSIP, in New York. In 1981, Jody was shipped to White Sands to be used in hepatitis research and for breeding.
White Sands wasted no time with Jody. Within three days of her arrival, she was housed with a chimpanzee named Tom for breeding. She was routinely anesthetized, or “knocked down” in lab parlance, for physical exams and to be injected or provide blood samples for research. Her first knock down came on her 10th day at the lab. She was 6 years old. She was intubated, her blood was drawn, and she was given a new tattoo – “WSRC #37.”
Over the next year and a half, Jody was regularly transferred between cages. Sometimes she was with another female, sometimes by herself, but usually she was with a male for breeding purposes…Max, Mack, John, Magoo….all in an attempt to create the next generation of lab chimpanzees.
Finally, on August 6, 1982, lab technicians found that they had succeeded in impregnating Jody and she was transferred to the “P.G. Cage” by herself. The following January, Jody gave birth for the first time. The technician’s notes read:
1/4/83 – 4cc Ketaset IM. Delivered infant baby male – taken away to nursery…Baby – Male WSRC #66 OPY – appears healthy.
In the wild, chimpanzee mothers will nurse their babies for the first five years. Their bond is incredibly strong and during that time the entire world revolves around their child, just as it does for human mothers. But Jody never got to nurse her baby, or hold him, or carry him on her back, or teach him about the world. She was immediately knocked down and her baby was stolen. Six weeks after delivering and losing her first baby, Jody was put into a cage with a male named Rufus for breeding, and the cycle continued.
Jody would go on to have eight other babies and two miscarriages and endure at least 52 knockdowns at White Sands. The technician’s notes tell the same story over and over again, with chilling detachment. Jody delivers a baby, and then she is anesthetized with a chemical anesthetic called ketamine (a.k.a. Ketaset or Vetalar) so that the baby can be taken away. The “IM” in these notes stands for “intramuscular” – this is not like slipping something in her drink…she was being stabbed with syringes or shot with darts.
11/23/83 – 4cc Ketaset IM. Delivered healthy infant male #88…removed and taken to nursery
6/20/84 – Found approx. 2-month old fetus + placenta in cage this a.m.
4/26/85 – Delivered healthy looking baby at 10:30pm…3cc Ketaset IM. Not taking care of baby. Infant removed to nursery. Animal does not appear to be feeling well. Did not eat any fruit this date.
3/15/86 – Delivered healthy infant early a.m. this date. 3 1/2 cc Ketaset IM. Mother was leaving infant on the floor – infant removed + taken to nursery. Appears to be a healthy animal #142 Cliff, male.
5/20/87 – Delivered healthy male infant between 11:30 and 12:00 pm…5cc Ketaset IM. Infant male #162 Clay removed and taken to nursery, Mother leaving infant unattended.
4/26/88 – PATHOLOGIST’S NOTE: Bloody mass found in cage – test indicates spontaneous abortion due to acute, hemorrhagic placentitis
1/4/89 – Arrived for night checks at 10:15pm…found infant alive in cage no more than one hour old – mother not taking good care of infant. 4 1/2 cc Ketaset IM. Removed infant male #0187 – appeared healthy.
9/30/90 – Delivered healthy infant female approx. 4 to 6 a.m. this date. Mother not taking good care of infant- leaving infant on floor unattended. 4 1/2 cc Vetalar IM, infant removed to nursery.
1/14/92 – Delivered healthy male at approx. 2:50pm this date. Mother not taking good care of baby. Leaving baby on floor unattended. 4.5 cc Vetalar IM Infant removed at 4:05pm, taken to nursery. Drew milk out for baby.
2/19/93 – Delivered infant early a.m. this date. 0515 hrs found infant on cage floor.Infant very cold. Removed infant immediately to nursery, mother not caring for infant. Infant male #236 Taylor.
Nine babies and two miscarriages in ten years.
The notes repeatedly state that Jody was not taking proper care of her infants, and this was very likely true. Chimpanzees who were stolen from their own mothers shortly after birth and then forced to endure life in a laboratory cage cannot be expected to care for their children properly. And if her date of birth is correct, she was still a child herself when she became pregnant. But the labs also had multiple incentives to take the babies from their mothers right away. First, a hand-reared chimpanzee is often easier to “work with” than a chimpanzee raised by a protective mother. But more importantly, Jody’s purpose at White Sands was to create more chimpanzees. Had she been allowed to raise and nurse her children as mothers in the wild would do, she would only give birth once every five years. By taking her babies away, they could keep her constantly pregnant.
Jody had the potential to be a great mother. She is tender, sensitive, and caring, but also fiercely protective of herself and her family. She deserved to be raised by her own mother and to learn what it is like to be loved unconditionally, and she deserved the chance to show her own children the same love.
One of the difficult things about sanctuaries is that you can’t make everything right again. For Jody, that time has passed. But what we can do, what we must do, is honor Jody and all the mothers whose children were stolen by never allowing this to happen again, and to help Jody heal by making each day more interesting, more exciting, and more hopeful than the last.
In celebration of Negra’s 39th birthday and the 4th anniversary of the chimps’ arrival at the sanctuary, we take a look back on the journey that brought Negra to us.
Thank you for all that you do to help us provide a home for Negra and her family.
(This video is narrated so you will need to turn your volume up)