"Smell my phone," says Gloria Grow as I climb into her Jeep at Montreal's Trudeau Airport.
–Andrew Westoll - The chimps of Fauna Sanctuary - c.2011 - pg.1
A true story of resilience and recovery
In Fauna Sanctuary Gloria Grow rescues animals. There are dogs, horses, swans, a donkey, and of course the chimpanzees. Most were retired from research facilities where they were the subjects of medical research into Hepatitis, HIV, and the like. There are a few who were circus chimps. Some of them started life as pets, cute little chimps to dress up and play with, until they grew too big and strong and dangerous. Anyone who heard of Travis and his attack on Charla Nash knows that a chimp is not to be taken lightly. And yet people continue to try and keep them as domestic pets.
In this book Westoll spent a year working in the Fauna Sanctuary. He gets to know not only the people who work there but also the chimpanzees themselves, and their horrific lives spent as test subjects, being knocked out, biopsied, infected, and isolated.
This is a heart-breaking story. Made all the worse because it is true.
The chimps Andrew meets, from bully boy Yoko to peace-maker Jethro to Rachel with her love for human clothes, all have huge issues and problems. They have been so mistreated that many can never fully recover. All Gloria can offer them is the chance for some respite and the hope that they can find some peace. But they are so damaged, physically and phychologically, that they are almost beyond hope.
Westoll paints a very readable tale of a year in the life of these chimps and people. He also fills us in on the backstories of the chimps, what they were through in their years as research animals. Being torn away from their mothers when only a few days old, and, in many cases isolated for years. He tells us of the research that proves that chimps and other primates need love and contact in their formative years, just as any human child does. How it is becoming more and more accepted that they can suffer from PTSD, just as people do, and yet that they are so dissimilar from us in other ways. All that HIV research they endured did nothing to help people, chimpanzee’s never develop AIDS, the disease affects them in a totally different manner. Likewise the Hepatitis research can be done now with artificially grown human tissue, much more beneficial than testing treatments on a chimp.
And even if it was of some benefit Westoll argues that it is ethically and morally wrong to use chimps in such a way. He compares it to the medical research performed on African-American men who were not given treatment for their syphillus in prison in the past. We wouldn’t do that now, someday will people look back with the same horror as what we are doing to chimpanzees today?
The United States is the only country in the world that still experiments on primates. And much of Gloria Grow’s work is involved in lobbying for legislation to protect the chimps. If you would like to donate to her, or other chimp sanctuaries you can find details here: http://www.faunafoundation.org/
I found this a fascinating book, hard to read in places, and maybe a little biased, but I think we can excuse Westoll that, he did live in the sanctuary for a year, and to be honest, I think I’d be on the chimps side too.