After 17 Years in Captivity, Lab Chimp Finds Freedom and a New Baby Doll

If there was ever any doubt that chimpanzees are capable of love and affection, Henrietta is irrefutable evidence. After a life of suffering and abuse, this retired chimpanzee at Save The Chimps sanctuary found peace and companionship in an unlikely source: a doll she treats as her own child.

“We received a donation of toys, and among them was a very small human-like stuffed baby doll,” says the Save The Chimps website about the unusual connection. “Henrietta doesn’t often pay attention to stuffed animals; she prefers lots and lots of blankets to weave elaborate nests instead. But for Henri, this toy was different; since she first spotted it, she has not let it out of her sight.”

Henrietta the chimp holding doll like a baby

Photo Credit: Save The Chimps

Perhaps Henri felt an urge to protect someone as she never was protected. The now 48-year-old chimp was taken from Africa still young to be used for medical research. She was imprisoned for 17 years in a small cage in a dark and damp hallway called ‘The Dungeon.” She only left to be experimented on and never got a chance to play, socialize or just be a chimp.

Still, her ability to love was intact. She never had a baby of her own but to her doll she acts like a mother.

“She grooms and kisses it, and even appears to try to nurse it,” explains Save The Chimps. “She also plays with her doll in the same way many chimp mothers play with their infants: lying on her back, lifting her baby up with her hands and feet, and bouncing or jiggling the doll.”

Henrietta the chimp treats doll like her baby

Photo Credit: Save The Chimps

Playing house makes Henri happy and that is something she earned the right to be after so many years in captivity.

Today over 1,700 chimps like Henrietta remain in laboratories in the United States in the name of research that could be done without them. The tests done on them are cruel but they are perfectly legal.

Despite examples like Henri that show these animals have an exceptional ability to connect emotionally with others, once in a lab they’re not treated as individuals, they’re assigned a number. They’re kept mostly in solitary confinement, can’t see the sunlight and are subjected to painful and traumatizing tests.

“Animals are subjected to invasive procedures, which can include surgeries, traumatic injuries, burns, force-feeding, blood draws, biopsies, food, water, and social deprivation, dart gun sedation, prolonged restraint, behavioral and environmental manipulations, viral and bacterial infections, and exposure to toxic drugs and chemicals,” explains the website for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), an organization dedicated to ending the use of animals in research.

Ethical concerns aside, the use of animals in medical research has proven to be ineffective because shockingly we’re not animals. We don’t share the same DNA or biology and therefore our bodies respond differently to drugs or viruses than animals do. In AIDS research, for example, primates “don’t develop AIDS when infected with HIV” and an Alzheimer’s vaccine “was well-tolerated in monkeys, but caused strokes and inflammation of the central nervous system in humans.”

Animal testing becomes then not only cruel but a waste of resources and time.

Luckily science has come a long way and today there are much more effective alternatives to animal testing. Microchips that have human cell tissue in them and perfectly mimic a human body’s reaction to a substance or condition are already in use in labs across the country. At Vanderbilt University a “microbrain reactor” is used for tracking how certain drugs affect the brain in a completely cruelty-free manner. The technology is there but funders of medical research need to be urged to use them.

In July 2015 it seemed primates were very close to being freed from labs everywhere as the organization The Non Human Rights Project fought in court for two chimps, Hercules and Leo, to be recognized as ‘non-human persons’ and granted the right to freedom from Stony Brook University where they were used for medical research. The judge acknowledged that the animals are clearly smart and sentient beings but ruled against them. Shortly after the decision, the University announced it would retire the two chimps to a sanctuary.

Which brings us back to Henrietta and her doll. She may have found in her old age a sanctuary both literal and figurative and a channel for all the love she never got in her life. So did Hercules and Leo eventually. But if medical research hadn’t abused her (and many others like her), she could have had so much more than a happy ending, she could have had a happy life. Imagine that…

Photo Credit: Save The Chimps


Mark Donner
Mark Donner3 years ago

Dogs and chimps in research labs should be a criminal offense. We are dealing with dangerous felons, murderers and psychopaths dressed in lab coats. Criminal psychopaths. They are a threat to animals and children.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

mari s.
Mari S3 years ago

This is so heartbreaking ---- to treat animals in such an abusive way for 17 yrs, 24/7 -- this abhorrent and unconscionable cruelty is beyond the pale -- I'm learning that more & more, such research labs using animals are closing -- this is good -- SHUT DOWN ALL SUCH LABS -- there are modern, humane ways of gaining knowledge WITHOUT using animals -- please visit PCRM.

Mary B.
Mary B3 years ago

How can this still be happening? This was delt with 30, 40 years ago. It must be stopped immediately and totally FOREVER ! How can those lab workers be so brain dead as to participate in this when it has not been needed for so long?

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Save the Chimps is an amazing rescue. Well worth checking into if you wish to follow up on Henrietta. Chimp testing is wrong.

Sara G.
Sara G3 years ago

If you need proof that evil exists, look at the human race. Thank goodness for Care2 where I find a bit of hope for humanity.

Misbah Malik
Misbah Malik3 years ago

This made my heart cry. Animals have heart too , they want companion also . It will be great if she gets a chimp companion!

Yola S.
.3 years ago

Such a heartbreaking story.So glad she's free at last.Let all animals out of the labs !!

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey3 years ago

Poor old lady. Glad she's freed at last.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thank you for sharing