She had spent her entire life in a cage
This is the moment a chimp who had spent her entire life caged up saw the open sky for the first time.
Vanilla the chimp had been raised as part of an animal testing programme at New York’s Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP).
LEMSIP once housed hundreds of chimps and monkeys in awful conditions before it closed in 1996. Vanilla had been a victim at the facility in the two years before its closure.
She was then moved to the Wildlife Waystation in California, a much larger enclosure. But here she was still in a “chain-link fence cage with no grass and very little enrichment.”
Her Save the Chimps profile reads: “I spent my early years in a biomedical research laboratory in New York where chimpanzees were commonly housed in 5’x5’x7’ cages suspended from the ground like bird cages.
“I was among thirty chimpanzees to be sent to the Wildlife Waystation in 1995 where I joined a small family group.”
In 2019, the Wildlife Waystation went out of business though, meaning that Vanilla had to be relocated again, along with 42 other chimps.
She ended up being among the final seven to be re-home, but thanks to the FedEx Cares program she was flown across the US to a sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Her profile explains: “It took a lot of devoted people to make our move to Florida possible and now I look forward to calling this my forever home.”
Footage of Vanilla meeting seeing her new surroundings was shared, and shows the 29-year-old chimp gazing up in awe at the sky as she explores her new surroundings.
Save the Chimps’ primatologist Dr. Andrew Halloran said: “In California, Vanilla lived with a handful of chimps inside a chain-link fence cage with no grass and very little enrichment.”
Halloran told the New York Post that Vanilla’s been settling in well and is getting along well with the 18 other chimps she shares the island with.
In particular, she has developed a ” particularly playful relationship with the alpha male Dwight — from whom she steals food.”
The Save the Chimps sanctuary is home to 226 chimps saved from the exotic pet trade, roadside zoos, laboratories and the entertainment industry.
Some of the chimps who come into the care of the organisation have never previously interacted with fellow chimps before.
Vanilla’ island is home to 18 other chimps that she “gets along with.”
Each chimp that arrives at the sanctuary is assessed by Halloran to decide which of the 12 chimp island communities it is best suited to.