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

by Andrew Westoll

This is a fascinating and moving account of a remarkable community of chimpanzees who gradually learn to become chimps again after spending years in research laboratories.  Brimming with empathy and touching stories, this book makes us question just what we owe to the animals who are our nearest genetic relations.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547737386
  • ISBN-10: 0547737386
  • Pages: 288
  • Publication Date: 05/01/2012
  • Carton Quantity: 24

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    “Astonishing . . . Moving.” —People

    The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is an unflinching, visceral look at the emotional and physical damage—actual, real damage done to specific, individual apes—in some of America’s most notorious biomedical research labs. It is also the story of humans who were driven to provide them with refuge, retirement . . . and, ultimately, their inherent right to dignity.” —Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

    IN THE CANADIAN WILDERNESS, Gloria Grow has created a rehabilitation center like none other. Thirteen chimpanzees, rescued from zoos and medical testing laboratories, now call Fauna Sanctuary home. After decades of cruelty and deprivation, these resilient primates are finally free to eat, sleep, play, and roam in peace—all while fighting their personal demons. Primatologist and author Andrew Westoll lived and worked at Fauna one remarkable summer, and The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is his poignant testimony to the capacity of these animals to heal—and to learn to be chimps again. This is an absorbing, bighearted story about the species more closely related to us than any other.

    “There is plenty of moral outrage in this book, but there is also plenty of wonder . . . Impassioned and well reasoned.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

    Chapter 1

    I am not interested in why man commits evil.
    I want to know why he does good.
    — Vàclav Havel

    Chimp Art

    “Smell my phone,” says Gloria Grow as I climb into her Jeep at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. She guns the engine and hands me her cell phone. “Go on. Smell it.”
     These are Gloria’s first words to me in person. We’ve already had two long phone conversations, between my home in Toronto and her farm in Quebec. By the end of those talks she’d invited me to move in with her family and write a book about them. But at no point did Gloria seem like the sort of person who would ask a virtual stranger to smell her phone.
     There is nothing peculiar about the cell, a standard-issue flip phone. But upon closer inspection I notice a constellation of little divots — are they bite marks? — punched into the bright pink casing.
    I look at Gloria. She is frowning. A construction detour has sent us in circles.
     “Go on,” she says again. I raise the phone to my nose.
     I smell a swamp. Rotten fruit. Fecal matter. The reek of a tropical jungle.
     “I love it,” I say.
     “Me too. Richard got me pink. I hate pink. But now I can’t bear to throw it out. Open it.”
     I flip the casing open, and the LCD comes to life. But instead of showing an orderly sequence of numbers and icons, the screen is a mess, a muddy squelch of black ink. The phone has been crushed,
    or chewed, beyond repair.
     “These roads!” says Gloria, making her third consecutive lefthand turn. Then she reaches over and presses her thumb into the phone’s screen. The inky cloud morphs into kaleidoscopic rainbows.
     “Isn’t that beautiful?” she says without looking over. “It’s like chimp art.”
     I fiddle with the cell phone, making a few of my own psychedelic impressions on the screen. As we descend an exit ramp to nowhere, Gloria sighs. She reaches over and tears the phone from my hand. Closing her eyes, she presses the phone to her nose and inhales deeply.
     “They only gave it back to me yesterday.”

    Cat Lady

    This is the story of a family of troubled animals who live on a farm in the French Canadian countryside. It is the story of how these animals came to be so troubled and how they are slowly becoming less so, in their own particular ways, through the actions of a small group of people led by Gloria Grow.
     When I say these animals are a family, I don’t mean they share a mother or father or brothers or sisters (although some of them surely do). They are a family in the sense that any group of beings who have lived together, suffered together, and triumphed together becomes a family. They are related in the way we are all related to one another, and here lies the source of their great misfortune.
     I first contacted Gloria in 1998, when I was a college biology student. I wrote to inquire about volunteer opportunities at the Fauna Foundation, the sanctuary for rescued animals that Gloria had recently founded with her partner, a veterinarian named Richard Allan, on their 240-acre hobby farm near Chambly. The foundation had recently been all over the local, national, and international news because it had just become the permanent retirement home for a very special group of chimpanzees.
     At the time I was one of thousands of young biology students who, inspired by the usual suspects (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, the breathless David Attenborough), would have done just about anything to get a job either working with or studying great apes — the orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees most of us have seen only in a zoo or in the pages of National Geographic. So when I first heard of Fauna, I couldn’t believe it. The place sounded like my own personal Shangri-la. Imagine: an opportunity to experience chimpanzee behavior in the flesh, just a short drive from Canada’s most sophisticated and seductive city, thereby removing the need to fund a kamikaze trek to the remote Central African rainforest (something I, at a much younger age, had briefly considered until I did a little reading and learned what the “civil” in “civil war” actually meant).
     I didn’t know why the chimps had been shipped to Fauna from their home in New York State. I knew nothing of what they’d been subjected to there or of the struggles each one faced in adjusting to retirement in Canada. All I knew was I wanted to work with them. Looking back, I find it unsettling how selfish my curiosity really was.
     Unfortunately, life got in the way, and the volunteering idea came to nothing. Soon after that I was offered a dream job of a different sort. After graduating, I spent a year in the jungles of Suriname, just north of the Amazon rainforest, studying wild troops of brown capuchin monkeys. Though they’re no great apes, capuchins are known as the chimpanzees of the New World for their intelligence and primitive forms of tool use. I was employed by the University of Florida, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation. My dreams fulfilled, my interests served, the chimpanzees of Fauna became a distant memory.

     Fast-forward more than a decade, then, throw in a career shift from scientist to writer, and here I am with Gloria, searching for a way out of Montreal, struggling to correlate the embarrassing mental image I’d had of her with the real-life version sitting next to me.
     The stereotype of the woman who dedicates her life to rescuing animals is a surprisingly powerful cultural image. Often referred to as the Crazy Cat Lady, but by no means limited to felines, she shuffles around in moldy slippers, the backs of her hands are raked with claw marks, and at any moment a minimum of four living creatures are buried somewhere in the folds of her robe. This woman is a walking menagerie of frumpy disillusionment, in desperate need of the unconditional love only an animal can provide. And although that image is a cruel exaggeration, I was half-expecting some variation on it when I climbed into the Jeep and finally met Gloria, more than ten years after my first attempt.
     Gloria is nothing like that imaginary Cat Lady. Small but full figured, with shoulder-length dark blond hair worn half up in a clip, she is disarmingly attractive, her face deeply tanned, her makeup tasteful, her smile full of intelligence. She is very fit, her shoulders and upper arms packed with the strength of a farmhand. She wears an elegant beige top, expensive-looking jeans, black sandals, and dark-framed glasses, a chic outfit that belies her age (mid-fifties), her roots (blue-collar Quebec), and her mode of transport (a dusty Jeep that smells vaguely of farm). As our quest for an escape route continues, Gloria speaks about the effects of captivity on animals, while my first impression of her changes to that of a woman caught between opposing worlds — something that could also be said of the Crazy Cat Lady.
     “It’s like Shawshank Redemption, right?” she says of the difficulties facing rescued animals. “The librarian finally gets out of prison, and what does he do? He kills himself.” Gloria pulls a hard right, and we careen onto a packed highway. “Found it. The 20-East.” She punches the gas. “We’re free!”

    Down on the Farm

    In fifteen minutes we reach a major crossroad, a huge parcel of former pastureland now inhabited by a dizzying metropolis of big-box stores, movie cinemas, restaurants, and parking lots. Soon enough, we’re driving along a pleasant country road, surrounded mostly by fi...

  • Reviews

    "Moving." —People, 4/4 stars

    "The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary blew me away. It is a master work that deserves an audience stretching from the US Congress to medical-school students to the widest possible public." -

    "a powerful look at how we treat our closest relatives" - Cleveland Plain Dealer

    "what I found from the first chapter was compassion, education and some of the best writing I have encountered in a very long time.  This book is not an in-your-face telling-you-what-to-do animal rights book full of horror, but an account of tenderness, turmoil and traverse spanning over a period of time much longer than when Fauna Sanctuary opened its doors 14 years ago." - Times Union

    "This incisive book describes the daily lives of 13 resident chimps, their resilience after so much suffering and the invasive research practices that 'render them as psychologically compromised as human victims of domestic violence or political and war prisoners.'...An affecting work about our genetic cousin." - Kirkus

    "A distressing, deeply important exposé of the suffering we have inflicted on our closest animal relation, the ethics of animal testing, and finally (and happily) a heartening picture of Fauna Sanctuary's commitment and compassion." - Publishers Weekly

    "The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary
    is a true story of endurance and resilience, compassion, dedication and love. I knew the prison-like conditions of the medical research facility from which Gloria [Grow] rescued these chimpanzees; when I visited them at their new sanctuary I was moved to tears. Finally they had reached a secure haven where, gradually, they could recover from their years of torment. Andrew Westoll is a born story teller: The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, written with empathy and skill, tenderness and humour, involves us in a world few understand. And leaves us marveling at the ways in which chimpanzees are so like us, and why they deserve our help and are entitled to our respect."

    --Jane Goodall Ph.D., DBE


    "This book will make you think deeply about our relationship with great apes. It amazed me to discover the behaviors and feelings of the chimpanzees."—Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation

    "This book is a wonder. Passionate, intelligent, moving and, above all, tremendously important, it illustrates the triumph of the wild spirit and offers surprising hope that the human animal might yet be redeemed. Think of Peter Singer's Animal Liberation and J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, and you’ll have some idea of what it is you hold in your hands. It has been a long time since any author has inspired me to such extremes of compassion and humility."—Barbara Gowdy, author of The White Bone