Fauna Foundation Chimpanzee Rachel


Some of the first biomedical chimpanzees that I met were at LEMSIP in 1993. Then I met the chimpanzees at Fauna just after their arrival from LEMSIP in 1997. Much later, I visited the Coulston Foundation shortly after Dr. Carole Noon began operations at Save The Chimps. One thing that has always struck me when meeting biomedical chimpanzees was their incredible resilience. Why should some guy, who has been stuck in a cage and tortured his entire life, give me a headnod (a chimpanzee greeting)? How could chimpanzees have the spirit to play, groom, support each other, and befriend a human after days, weeks, months, years, decades of institutional life and, in lab cases, with less than ideal relationships with caregivers. I have never understood how chimpanzees can move past that, but many do. How are they not all crazy? How are they not all chewing holes in their arms, beating themselves in the head…how do they endure the suffering?  I have never been able to understand that until now.  

A Story of Resilience

While I spend a lot of my time thinking, studying and advocating for better ways to care for chimpanzees, to alleviate this suffering, I tend to focus on the bad stories to emphasize my points about why we need to make conditions better for chimpanzees. I talk a lot about Rachel’s PTSD, Maya’s self-injurious behaviors, and the chimp at Coulston who chewed holes in his arm. I usually don’t focus on the majority that pull through with less apparent problems. For example, Sue Ellen loves her human caregivers dearly, she greets us, sits up, and breathy pants to say hello, even though at age 15 she got dumped into a lab and then endured the worst of invasive biomedical research, and these days, probably doesn’t feel so great since she’s lost her mobility. I usually don’t focus on the resilience–but Sue Ellen is a story of resilience and one of many.

Maya was raised like a young child for the first years of her life. She was then put on display in a zoo before coming to live in sanctuary at Fauna.

Resilience, hope and light

So many chimpanzees in captive environments have many good days despite their living arrangements; their lack of agency and freedom. This is what has always struck me, and it is what is unexpected. I thought this was one of the things that was very different between humans and nonhumans. But recently I’ve run across some stories that have made me see that this resilience is also something that humans share with chimpanzees. One story is of a music manuscript recently discovered in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. Dr. Patricia Hall discovered a music manuscript that was written by prisoners in this WWII German death camp. Dr. Hall had her musician colleagues at University of Michigan play the score. It is a fox trot and is a lovely light upbeat cheery piece. You will understand by listening to it. It is unfathomable this this would come out of a place so full of misery, despair, and hopelessness. But it did.

The second is a true story told in the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris. Without giving away the story I’ll just say it is a love story. Another tale of resilience, of hope, and of light. This is what we endeavor to bring into the lives of the chimpanzees – a little light. Luckily for us it’s in their nature to shine.

You too can share your light with the chimpanzees of Fauna.