A 28-year-old chimpanzee who spent her life looking through bars saw the open sky for the first time at a Florida sanctuary, rescuers say.
The chimpanzee, whose name is Vanilla, spent the early part of her life at a biomedical research laboratory in New York, according to Save the Chimps, an organization based in Fort Pierce that hosts a sanctuary for rescued chimpanzees.
She was later transferred to Wildlife Waystation, an animal sanctuary in Los Angeles, California, that closed suddenly in 2019, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
When it closed, Vanilla, along with around 42 other chimpanzees, needed to be rehomed, according to Save the Chimps.
The chimpanzees were harder to find homes for than the other animals, which included lions, tigers, bears and jaguars, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Medical research on chimpanzees was outlawed in 2015, so as research facilities shut down, space for the rescued primates dwindled, the agency said.
But eventually, Vanilla and some of her family members, including her sister, Shake, flew across the country in a FedEx airplane to Orlando and then rode in a climate-controlled semi-truck about 120 miles southeast to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce.
After a quarantine period, Vanilla and the other chimps were released into the sanctuary, which encompasses a 3-acre island, according to the organization.
This was a new experience for Vanilla, who had spent her whole life in enclosures with “cage tops,” the organization said.
She was nervous to go outside at first, video shared by Save the Chimps shows.
But the alpha male of her group, Dwight, opened his arms and “encouraged” her to jump from an opening in their enclosure and into the sanctuary, video shows.
As he wraps his arms around her, Vanilla can be seen turning, gazing up and opening her mouth “in awe.” The camera follows her as she explores her new home, continuously looking up to peer again at the sky.
“My first time outside, (I) was in awe of the open sky, a sight I had never seen in my life as my former homes had cage tops,” Vanilla’s bio on the Save the Chimp website reads. “I enjoy exploring the island and relaxing and grooming with my family on the island.”
People share about 98% of our genes with chimpanzees, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
They are listed as endangered, and their main threat is poaching, according to the organization.
Save the Chimps says it takes care of more than 200 chimpanzees at its sanctuary.