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The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery (2011)

by Andrew Westoll

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1098249,851 (4.43)11
"In 1997 Gloria Grow started a sanctuary for chimps retired from biomedical research on her farm outside Montreal. For the indomitable Gloria, caring for thirteen great apes is like presiding over a maximum security prison, a Zen sanctuary, an old folks home, and a New York deli during the lunchtime rush all rolled into one. But she is first and foremost creating a refuge for her troubled charges, a place where they can recover and begin to trust humans again. Hoping to win some of this trust, the journalist Andrew Westoll spent months at Fauna Farm as a volunteer and vividly recounts his time in the chimp house and the histories of its residents. He arrives with dreams of striking up an immediate friendship with the legendary Tom, the wise face of the Great Ape Protection Act, but Tom seems all too content to ignore him. Gradually, though, old man Tommie and the rest of the troop begin to warm toward Westoll as he learns the routines of life at the farm and realizes just how far the chimps have come. Seemingly simple things like grooming, establishing friendships and alliances, and playing games with the garden hose are all poignant testament to the capacity of these animals to heal. Brimming with empathy and winning stories of Gloria and her charges, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is an absorbing, bighearted book that grapples with questions of just what we owe to the animals who are our nearest genetic relations"-- "A journalist and primatologist tells the remarkable story of thirteen chimpanzees and the people who care for them at Fauna Sanctuary as they recover from the trauma of years of use as laboratory subjects and learn how to trust humans and, more importantly, how to be chimps again"--… (more)
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In Fauna Sanctuary Gloria Grow rescues animals. There are dogs, horses, swans, a donkey, and of course the chimpanzees. Most were retired from research facilities where they were the subjects of medical research into Hepatitis, HIV, and the like. There are a few who were circus chimps. Some of them started life as pets, cute little chimps to dress up and play with, until they grew too big and strong and dangerous. Anyone who heard of Travis and his attack on Charla Nash knows that a chimp is not to be taken lightly. And yet people continue to try and keep them as domestic pets.

In this book Westoll spent a year working in the Fauna Sanctuary. He gets to know not only the people who work there but also the chimpanzees themselves, and their horrific lives spent as test subjects, being knocked out, biopsied, infected, and isolated.

chimps of fauna sanctuary

This is a heart-breaking story. Made all the worse because it is true.

The chimps Andrew meets, from bully boy Yoko to peace-maker Jethro to Rachel with her love for human clothes, all have huge issues and problems. They have been so mistreated that many can never fully recover. All Gloria can offer them is the chance for some respite and the hope that they can find some peace. But they are so damaged, physically and phychologically, that they are almost beyond hope.

Westoll paints a very readable tale of a year in the life of these chimps and people. He also fills us in on the backstories of the chimps, what they were through in their years as research animals. Being torn away from their mothers when only a few days old, and, in many cases isolated for years. He tells us of the research that proves that chimps and other primates need love and contact in their formative years, just as any human child does. How it is becoming more and more accepted that they can suffer from PTSD, just as people do, and yet that they are so dissimilar from us in other ways. All that HIV research they endured did nothing to help people, chimpanzee’s never develop AIDS, the disease affects them in a totally different manner. Likewise the Hepatitis research can be done now with artificially grown human tissue, much more beneficial than testing treatments on a chimp.

And even if it was of some benefit Westoll argues that it is ethically and morally wrong to use chimps in such a way. He compares it to the medical research performed on African-American men who were not given treatment for their syphillus in prison in the past. We wouldn’t do that now, someday will people look back with the same horror as what we are doing to chimpanzees today?

The United States is the only country in the world that still experiments on primates. And much of Gloria Grow’s work is involved in lobbying for legislation to protect the chimps. If you would like to donate to her, or other chimp sanctuaries you can find details here: http://www.faunafoundation.org/

I found this a fascinating book, hard to read in places, and maybe a little biased, but I think we can excuse Westoll that, he did live in the sanctuary for a year, and to be honest, I think I’d be on the chimps side too. ( )
  Fence | Jan 5, 2021 |
I have been wanting to read this book since it was published in 2011. It won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction in 2012 and then in 2017 it appeared on the CBC list of 100 True Stories that Make You Proud to be Canadian. But it was the choice to put it on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist that finally made me get it from the library. As I write this there is still a few more days before the Canada Reads shortlist is announced but I do really hope this book will be chosen. After all, the theme this year is "One Book to Move You" and I think it certainly fulfils that.

Andrew Westoll went to live at Fauna Sanctuary on the south shore of Quebec in the summer of 2010. He had trained as a biologist and had worked with capuchin monkeys in the Amazon rainforest but then he turned to writing. He wanted to document the work that Gloria Grow and her staff were doing with chimpanzees that were finally in retirement after a lifetime as bio-medical research subjects. Fauna Sanctuary is on a rural property and houses, in addition to the chimpanzees, horses, cows, a donkey, dogs, birds and others. When Westoll went to volunteer and write there were thirteen chimpanzees in residence. Most had come from a medical facility in New York state but a few were retired zoo animals. The procedures the chimps had undergone included surgeries, infections with viruses such as hepatitis and HIV, biopsies, and vaccine production. All of the chimps were traumatized by the procedures, some worse than others. The wonder is that they survived to retire to Fauna Sanctuary. And an even greater surprise is how these animals grew to trust and love the humans there. Westoll was profoundly impacted by his experiences; it shines through his writing. This book is a moving argument against using great apes in research. In the years since the book was written the US has decided to retire almost all of the great apes used in labs there. This may not be due to a change of heart about testing on them; rather the cost of housing and feeding and caring for the great apes is expensive and it may be just too expensive. Great apes also may not be a good research subject. Despite their similarity to humans they are different enough that most viruses do not proliferate in them and therefore testing vaccines is useless. Westoll refers to a 2007 paper by Andrew Knight that examined experiments on chimpanzees over 10 years. Knight concluded that "No chimpanzee study made an essential contribution, or, in most cases, a significant contribution of any kind."

When I was taught literature in school I was told that one of the major themes was man's inhumanity to man. I think there should be an addition to that; it should be man's inhumanity to man or beast. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jan 26, 2019 |
I was so impressed by this book I sent a donation to the organization. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
As the United States begins to wind down its chimpanzee medical studies program of the past 60+ years - in which chimps are taken from their mothers at birth, thrown into a solitary metal cage for life never to see the sun, infected with AIDS, TB and whatever else, surgeries without pain killer and so on - these older chimps who somehow survived, psychologically damaged, need a place to live out the remainder of their life. Thus a network of "sanctuaries" around North America are appearing to take in the 2000 or so chimps, the largest population of chimps outside the wild. This book is about one such sanctuary in Canada that houses about 20. Westoll worked there, each day preparing food and cleaning cages. He is a talented writer and through him we get to experience a relationship with our closest animal relative. These chimps are different from wild chimps, they are depressed, socially dysfunctional, suffering from severe PTSD. Yet they remain individuals with personalities and entirely understandable, naturally.

I became interested after seeing this affecting video of chimpanzees going outside for the first time. I immediately wanted to learn more and this book turned out to be the perfect portal into this strange world. You get to know chimpanzees as individuals, the people who run the sanctuaries, and information about the lab chimp program and efforts underway to end it. As they are slowly released into sanctuaries, out of the shadows, they are becoming a part of the public consciousness. Hard to imagine a better introduction to lab chimps. ( )
  Stbalbach | Aug 27, 2013 |
Actually a 4.5 Star read!

This book is hard to review because it is a necessary story, a hard story and a story that shows how ruddy right shitty human beings can be; the hard part comes from not wanting to be a hard-ass on author Westoll for some less than stellar passages and other cliché moments of self-inspection. Please know that Westoll is a journalist and was, briefly, a primatologist - living for one year in Suriname to study. He comes from a research, scientific and fact background. He seems like a kind and lovely man. His writing style is fluid, compelling and sometimes, even, poetic. My wish, though, is that Westoll had not added his journey into the equation, weaving his personal searching (if that's the right word??) during his time at the sanctuary (where he resided in research of this book). The chimps of Fauna Sanctuary have stories, biographies of horrible affronts to their physical and emotional lives. Coupled with the story of Gloria Grow, Fauna's founder, there is certainly more than enough to provide a tale that can stand alone. Seriously.

So yeah, I feel like a crappy human being for trifling over this stuff but I think it is worth noting the things that didn't work for me. And really, it is still a 4.5 Star book, so it didn't rankle my cankles enough to chafe.

Read this book! DO IT! ( )
  JooniperD | Apr 10, 2013 |
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"In 1997 Gloria Grow started a sanctuary for chimps retired from biomedical research on her farm outside Montreal. For the indomitable Gloria, caring for thirteen great apes is like presiding over a maximum security prison, a Zen sanctuary, an old folks home, and a New York deli during the lunchtime rush all rolled into one. But she is first and foremost creating a refuge for her troubled charges, a place where they can recover and begin to trust humans again. Hoping to win some of this trust, the journalist Andrew Westoll spent months at Fauna Farm as a volunteer and vividly recounts his time in the chimp house and the histories of its residents. He arrives with dreams of striking up an immediate friendship with the legendary Tom, the wise face of the Great Ape Protection Act, but Tom seems all too content to ignore him. Gradually, though, old man Tommie and the rest of the troop begin to warm toward Westoll as he learns the routines of life at the farm and realizes just how far the chimps have come. Seemingly simple things like grooming, establishing friendships and alliances, and playing games with the garden hose are all poignant testament to the capacity of these animals to heal. Brimming with empathy and winning stories of Gloria and her charges, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is an absorbing, bighearted book that grapples with questions of just what we owe to the animals who are our nearest genetic relations"-- "A journalist and primatologist tells the remarkable story of thirteen chimpanzees and the people who care for them at Fauna Sanctuary as they recover from the trauma of years of use as laboratory subjects and learn how to trust humans and, more importantly, how to be chimps again"--

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