By Ana Paula Tavares, CEO
We did it! The Sunrise Seven have been successfully rescued from the shuttered Wildlife Waystation and are now safe and sound at Save the Chimps.
On a hot afternoon in early July, a group of apes—chimpanzees and humans alike—gathered at the closed animal refuge in the fire-prone hills north of L.A. We were surrounded by beautiful mountains and the lonesome calls of wolves. Our feelings were a mix of the sorrow of those saying goodbye to longtime friends, and the joy and relief of providing these magnificent chimpanzees a better future. At last, Magic’s family of five and the Dynamic Duo (Jacob and Cayleb) would leave what had become a place of danger and despair for a peaceful retirement at a 150-acre sanctuary.
Our ensemble of passionate animal lovers was committed to do whatever it took to safely prepare these seven chimpanzees for their long journey from Sylmar, CA, to Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, FL. The all-nighter with these wonderful chimps and chimp heroes included laughs, storytelling, and the forging of new friendships.
Anher and Silvio, devoted Wildlife Waystation care staff, called me by radio. That couldn’t be good. Magic, our youngest passenger and the first to enter a crate, had ripped the soft mesh lining, which was inside the crate door. Later, she punched through the wood panel. After some head scratching, we solved both problems by reversing the position of the door in all other crates, and cutting and placing a new wooden panel in Magic’s crate. Phew! The loading of the next four chimpanzees went smoothly. Then, longtime mates Ernesta and Jeff (Magic’s parents) entered one crate together, hugging each other and refusing to separate. As with all others, this sweet challenge was met, and the journey continued…
The FedEx team at LAX took great care of the Sunrise Seven’s placement in transport vehicles, with giant nets and extensive security measures. Dr. Anne Meyer and Deanna Jenkins were excited and well-prepared to play their veterinarian and caregiving roles on the flight, ensuring the chimps were hydrated, fed, and reassured. All considered, the chimps did really well. There was only one moment during the cross-country trip when they exhibited stress, through alarm calls.
Dr. Andrew Halloran, Leandre the driver, and I were waiting for them at the Orlando airport with a 100-foot climate-controlled Pero Family Farms truck. Thanks to Care Manager Sarah Poirier’s extraordinary leadership and Save the Chimps’ efficient team, seven chimpanzees were carefully loaded off the truck and gently placed in their new yards in less than two hours!
Ernesta came out of the crate and immediately made a nest from hay and blankets, lying down with her hands folded under her head. Tonka, a recently rescued chimpanzee, was very excited by the arrival of his new neighbors. Cayleb sought reassurance from Jeff, the eldest of the Sunrise Seven. Then he saw and recognized Dr. Halloran, who had spent time observing them at the Wildlife Waystation three months prior. Cayleb went from stressed to reassured as Save the Chimps’ Director of Care and Behavior had a tender exchange of sounds and gestures with him.
Magic and her family are spending most of their time on their yard’s highest platform. They climb down to eat, drink, and enjoy the playground structures. It is wonderful to watch them swing across the yard. Some of them had no previous experience walking on grass. Cayleb and Jacob are very social and playful. All of them seem to love music.
The Sunrise Seven deserve a safe and peaceful retirement. I am inspired and humbled by their resilience and encouraged by their promising future at Save the Chimps. This complicated coast-to-coast logistical choreography was the culmination of months of detailed planning, involving the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, the California Fish & Wildlife Service, the Wildlife Waystation team, the L.A. Zoo, FedEx, Pero Family Farms, generous and compassionate donors, and Save the Chimps’ Board and staff. Our thanks to all those who helped us help these vulnerable and very special beings.