Vanilla the Chimp Sees the Sky For the First Time in Her Life — Details


Jun. 29 2023, Published 2:44 p.m. ET

The subject of animal mistreatment has long been a source of sadness and frustration for many. Humans have conducted harmful animal research and used animals in awful ways, but fortunately there are animal sanctuaries and rescue organizations working to improve conditions for animals everywhere.

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Vanilla the chimp, who was caged her entire life, finally saw the sky for the first time, and her reaction is enough to melt even the Grinch's cold heart. A YouTube video from a chimpanzee sanctuary went viral, showing the chimp have the moving experience of seeing the sky.

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What happened to Vanilla the chimp?

Vanilla is a chimpanzee who spent decades living in cramped spaces and never seeing the wide-open sky. According to The Daily Mail, she was rescued and brought to live at the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Fla. The organization posted a video to YouTube in June 2023 showing Vanilla and other chimps in their roomier surroundings.

Vanilla had lived in a research facility, the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), until age two, then was moved to a sanctuary in California until 2023.

The YouTube video explains that Vanilla's home in California was inside a chain-link fence, with no grass and little space to explore.

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The Daily Mail reported that Dan Mathews, director of events and special projects at Save the Chimps, said Vanilla was "so shy" when she first arrived at the sanctuary. "She didn't really know what to do in the grass and on the ground. But she is 28 years old, turns 29 next month, and she'd never been able to walk more than ten paces in her life."

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Vanilla's expression upon seeing sky is priceless.

The one-minute video posted to YouTube features the song "Blue Skies" sung by Ella Fitzgerald — a fitting soundtrack for this video of Vanilla seeing the blue skies for the first time. The video has text explaining that Vanilla was tentative about venturing outside, but the family's alpha, Dwight, gave her a hug of encouragement.

Vanilla and her sister, Shake, now live at Save the Chimps, one of the biggest chimpanzee sanctuaries in the world. The organization provides care for chimps that have spent time in research laboratories, the pet trade, and the entertainment industry.

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Why was Vanilla the chimp caged?

MSN reports that the LEMSIP research facility in New York kept Vanilla until age two. That lab was shut down by force in 1996, but then she was relocated to a sanctuary in California. Unfortunately, the sanctuary wasn't much of an improvement, providing Vanilla with only a five-square-foot cage or garage-sized enclosure.

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According to the New York Post, it's unclear from the viral video where Vanilla spent the past few years since the California sanctuary closed down in 2019.

She's now home at Florida's Save the Chimps, which houses 226 chimpanzees. Dr. Andrew Halloran, primatologist for the organization, told the Post, "Vanilla is settling in very well. When she's not exploring the island with her friends, she can usually be found perched atop a three-story climbing platform surveying her new world."

Dr. Halloran assesses each new chimp's personality to decide which of the sanctuary's 12 chimp island communities would best fit. Vanilla apparently gets along very well with the other 18 chimps in her group, including the alpha, Dwight. Thankfully, she has a large natural area to explore more of the world with her chimp family.

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