It was an early January morning in 1974 when this group of chimps, who had been used in lab research, were finally given the opportunity to see the sunlight for the first time in six years.
They were offered the chance to leave their cold, steel cages and walk out onto the grass. But, the poor creatures were too afraid to move.
“They were terrified to get out of the security of their transport cage,” said animal behaviorist and caretaker, Linda Koebner, in a segment from a 1999 documentary called ‘The Wisdom of the Wild.’
“Whether it was afraid to step on the grass, they hadn’t been on anything but hard bars for years, or just the feel of the wind and the sun. They just huddled in the doorways and wouldn’t come out.”
But after a little time Koebner, a graduate student at the time, managed to coax them into the grass.
The chimps had been used for hepatitis research, but they weren’t needed any longer in the labs because a vaccine had been discovered.
And so they were to be released onto a southern Florida preserve. They needed Koebner to teach them how to be wild.
Koebner, who would go on to found Chimp Haven in Louisiana, spent the next four years alongside the chimps everyday.
“Chimpanzees have provided us so much in this world,” says Koebner in the film. “So much knowledge about ourselves, about our social lives, about our dispositions, because they are so much like us as beings.”
But in time, Koebner had to move on.
Then, after two decades had past, she came back to say hello to the few chimps that were still there.
“It’s been so long,” she says in the film. “Oh, you look great.”
She hadn’t been around the chimps at all in the past 18 years, so at first she remained a respectful distance away from them.
Then, she got a little closer and reached out her arm. “Do you remember me?” she asks once again.
And a chimp named Swing, with a wide grin on her beautiful face, reached out her hand to grasp Koebner’s. And in seconds, the two of them are hugging, and then Doll, another chimp, comes over to get in on the action too.
“These chimpanzees have taught me about resilience,” Koebner says. “All of these have gone through such tremendous adversity, and yet they’re forgiving and they’re whole again.”
Due to the fact that chimpanzees share 98.8 percent of our DNA, they have remained, for a long period of time, the “ideal” models to test drugs and vaccines on.
However, last fall in the U.S., chimpanzees were listed as an endangered species, which brought experimentation on them to a halt. And now they are enjoying their day in the sun with a brand new documentary that sheds light on their plight.
Unfortunately, however, there are still hundreds of them just existing in labs, waiting for their official retirement into a sanctuary.
Watch the heartwarming video, of Koebner saying goodbye to her chimp friends for the last time, here:
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