Chimp meets the woman who saved her from the lab 25 years ago

The way they hug at the end has me in tears!

Chimpanzees, often believed to be our closest living genetic relatives, often aren’t treated with the dignity they deserve. In searching for a hepatitis vaccine, for example, certain chimps were used in rigorous testing that wore them down. Once they were no longer needed, they were often either euthanized or discarded. People like Linda Koebner have been lifelong advocates for these animals with the goal of getting them their freedom and happiness. Years ago, when Linda was only twenty-three, she met a chimp that would become a lifelong friend.

It was Linda’s job to prepare three chimps for the outside world: Sparky, Swing, and Doll.

Linda was hopeful that the chimps would thrive in their new environment and spoke of how these amazing creatures have benefited us humans.

“Chimpanzees have provided us with so much in this world. So much knowledge about ourselves, about our social lives, about our dispositions…” Linda said.

On an early January morning, a group of lab chimpanzees was given their first time in the sun in over 6 years.

“They were terrified to get out of the security of their transfer cage.” Linda recalled. “Whether that 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.”

The process of acclimating the chimps to their own freedom was time-consuming and rigorous, however. Over the next four years, Linda spent every day with them, helping them to learn basic skills and providing comfort when they were nervous.

“Over time we coaxed them, and Doll was right up the tree.” Linda said. “But some of the others had never tasted any kind of freedom since they were infants riding on their mother’s back, and they had been in these little boxes for years and years.”

Eventually, the chimps settled happily into their new home on an island in a sanctuary in Southern Florida.

But, time goes on. Eventually, Linda moved on to other things in her life after spending her early years with the chimps. After nearly 25 years, Linda decided to make a visit and see some of her old friends at the sanctuary. The big question was whether the chimps were going to remember the woman that was so instrumental in getting them their freedom.

As Linda boarded a boat to take her to the island, nobody knew how the chimps would react. But as the boat approached, Swing sat right by the dock and waited eagerly for Linda to arrive. She seemed to remember something!

As soon as the boat reached the land, Swing’s face broke out into a huge smile and she reached out for Linda’s hand.

Something seemed to click for Swing. Once Linda was overcome with the emotions of the moment, he didn’t hesitate to get close and go in for a hug with the woman who helped him so long ago. The emotional intelligence of Swing was incredible to witness. He knew that a hug was what made him feel better when he was little, now it was time for him to return the favor. Then, another old friend walked up. It was Doll!

Doll hugged Linda too, and both chimps made noises as if they were crying themselves. You can see the emotion on their faces, and they clearly remembered the woman who rescued them and spent so much time making sure they were going to be okay.

Doll and Swing sat there hugging their long-time friend and making noises that seemed like they were crying. It was a reunion that turned every one to crying!

“These chimpanzees have taught me about resilience.” Linda said. “All of these have gone through such tremendous adversity, and yet they’re forgiving and they’re whole again.”

Over 30 chimps have found refuge in this Southern Florida sanctuary.

Linda, inspired by the success of Doll and Swing, has helped save many other animals. Now, the sanctuary in Florida has over 30 chimps, all with a shot at living a life of freedom and peace.

“My dream is to replicate on a grander scale what we were able to do for the chimps that came to Lion Country with us… To give them the respect and the freedom to live out their lives. All animals are individuals and they have feelings and thoughts, and suffer the pain and the joy that we do.”

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Victoria Do

Victoria Do is a contributor at Jackie Inc.

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