In the summer of 2009, I spent ten weeks living and working at the Fauna Foundation, a sanctuary for abused and neglected animals just outside Montreal, Canada. Fauna is home to over one hundred animals of all shapes and sizes, but its most famous residents are a very special family of chimpanzees.
Fourteen years ago, these chimps were rescued from a biomedical laboratory. In the lab, they'd spent decades suffering through countless invasive surgeries like punch- and open-liver biopsies, dart-gun knockdowns and day after day of barren captivity. They’d been used as test subjects in vaccine trials, and injected with lethal human diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. Their lives had been utterly miserable and devoid of just about everything an ape requires to live a happy, dignified life. Some of them were driven psychotic by the experience.
But at Fauna, the chimps have begun to heal. And what’s even more amazing it that they’ve begun to trust humans again. This is what my next book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, is all about. It’s a biography of the chimps and the woman who saved them, Gloria Grow, who continues to look after them to this day.
When I moved in to Fauna in 2009, thirteen troubled chimpanzees were living there. To honour that magic number, I'm going to post thirteen memories of my time with the chimps right here on The New Animalist, and on the Walrus Blog, as well. Posts will appear about once a week, as a countdown of sorts to publication. Come May, when the book will be in stores across North America, you should all feel a little closer to Fauna and the remarkable apes who live there.
Each post will be named after an individual chimp. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the mighty Jethro....