From Ghastly to Glowing: Jamie the Chimp Is Happily Adjusting to Life Outside the Lab
Written by Debbie Metzler, M.S., Advocacy Coordinator
After she was born, Jamie was stolen from her mother and raised in an unnatural environment. She was forced to wear costumes and perform for people to laugh at. Despite this, she created a connection with the group she lived in, and wanted to be like them. When she was still just a child, only 9-years-old, she was imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit. No law would save her, and no defender would protect her. As if being in prison wasn’t enough, she was regularly put under anesthesia, used as a guinea pig for medical vaccines, and when the tests were over she was shut back in her prison block until the next round of research would begin. Jamie lived in this prison for over two decades.
What happened to Jamie is shocking. No human should ever be treated this way or have to live through these circumstances. But Jamie is a chimpanzee. She was raised in a human household and used in entertainment. When she became too strong, she was sold into biomedical research and used in testing until she was rescued by Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in 2008.
Jamie is the smartest primate you’ll ever meet. She is constantly working on projects, is always aware of what everyone in her group is doing, and she is very socially manipulative. Jamie identifies with the humans a lot, probably because she was raised in a human environment. But sadly, for Jamie and for all captive chimpanzees, she simply cannot live in the human world. Chimpanzees are just too strong and willful to be safe in a human environment. They are territorial and they bite when they feel threatened. So Jamie now lives in the chimpanzee world, but she still relates to and socializes with her human caregivers.
Jamie seems to be very aware of her captivity. While many other captive chimpanzees appear to accept their life for what it is, Jamie wishes for more. Keeping her mind engaged is something that caregivers are constantly trying to do, but happily accept the challenge. We can’t ever make up for what was taken from Jamie, but we can try to give her a good life now.
After six years in sanctuary, Jamie has transformed both physically and psychologically. When she and the other chimpanzees in her group arrived from the lab, they looked and acted like ghosts of themselves. Today, Jamie takes daily territorial patrols of her two-acre outdoor enclosure. She plays fun games of chase with her chimpanzee friends and enjoys boots and flipping through magazines. She delights in eating pears and oranges and loves to forage for food in hard-to-reach spots. She appreciates a good challenge. She climbs over structures and likes to take in the view such a simple pleasure she was denied for decades.
It is difficult to imagine how Jamie survived the years of boredom and fear in biomedical research, and it is heartbreaking knowing how many chimpanzees are still being held in laboratories. Every captive chimpanzee deserves a defender. Every captive chimpanzee deserves caregivers who strive to give them the best life possible where they can enjoy the feeling of sun on their backs and grass under their feet and learn what it means to be a chimpanzee.
Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest provides sanctuary to chimpanzees discarded from the entertainment and biomedical testing industries. The sanctuary also works to empower individuals to create change for apes in need everywhere through their advocacy program, Eyes on Apes. For more information, visit www.EyesOnApes.org and www.ChimpsNW.org.
Debbie Metzler has a master‘s degree in psychology and primate behavior and she has worked as a caregiver at chimpanzee sanctuaries for nearly a decade. When she‘s not spending time keeping chimpanzees happy and enriched, Debbie is working on advocacy and educating the public about the plight of captive and freeliving apes.
All photos courtesy of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.