Rescued chimp Vanilla now thriving at new home, loves grass

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She was a Vanilla sky-gazer.

Rescued chimpanzee Vanilla, who was spellbound after seeing the sky for the first time in three decades last year, is reportedly flourishing at her new home in Florida.

“She was just welcomed so warmly,” said Dan Mathews, director of events and special projects at the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce where she resides, per the Daily Mail.

“And after all she’s been through, with never being able to walk more than 10 paces in any direction, to have this kind of freedom, she’s just, she’s thriving right now.”

Vanilla is one of 226 chimpanzees living on the idyllic island, dubbed “Florida’s wildest retirement community,” which houses primate refugees from laboratories, the entertainment industry, the exotic pet trade and roadside zoos.

Many have previously endured solitary confinement and never interacted with other chimps before — as was the case with Vanilla. She is a 29-year-old survivor of the notorious Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates in Tuxedo, NY.

According to Mathews, she had “never felt grass beneath her feet before.”

Thankfully, Vanilla is now thriving in her new world, often seen frolicking around in the fields with other chimps — and periodically glancing up in disbelief.


Vanilla is one of 226 chimpanzees living on the idyllic primate island, dubbed “Florida’s Wildest retirement community.” She is a 29-year-old survivor of the notorious Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), in Tuxedo, NY.
Save the Chimps

In the heartwarming video that shocked the internet earlier this week, the chimp could be seen stepping outside and looking up at the blue sky in astonishment, marking the first time she’d seen it after spending nearly 30 years in a cage. She was greeted with open arms by Dwight, an “alpha male who’s in charge of the chimps,” per Matthews.

“In the video, you see her going into his arms for a hug,” the special projects coordinator explained describing the emotional moment. “It is the first time she was outdoors with more than 10 feet of fence around her on all sides from top to bottom.”

He told The Post, “She is clearly elated to have suddenly found freedom.”


Vanilla is now thriving in her new world, often seen frolicking around in the fields with other chimps — and periodically glancing up in disbelief.
Save the Chimps

It’s been a long and arduous road for Vanilla, who was born into captivity at the testing facility LEMSIP in 1995. She was immediately separated from her mother because it was difficult to experiment on babies with the protective mama present.

Through the late 1990s, the lab specialized in research for HIV and hepatitis, and Vanilla could’ve been one of the last animals to have been tested, according to Mathews.

“Researchers drew blood and did biopsies,” he explained. “They infected the chimpanzees with various diseases, but I don’t know if Vanilla was infected.”

During Vanilla’s imprisonment, she was forced to live in an elevated wire mesh cage, where she watched TV and reportedly never saw the sky.


In a heartwarming video that shocked the internet earlier this week, the chimp could be seen stepping outside and looking up at the blue sky in astonishment, marking the first time she'd seen it after spending nearly 30 years in a cage.Vanilla
In a heartwarming video that shocked the internet earlier this week, the chimp could be seen stepping outside and looking up at the blue sky in astonishment, marking the first time she’d seen it after spending nearly 30 years in a cage.
Save the Chimps

The wire netting allowed keepers to hose the enclosures down like a slaughterhouse without removing the animals.

In fact, it was these inhumane cages that led to the facility’s shuttering in 1997, after which the lab’s over 100 chimps were relocated.

Vanilla and her sister Shake were sent to the Wildlife Waystation, a nonprofit refuge north of Los Angeles, which was essentially “a dumping ground for many animals who were being discarded,” Mathews explained.

“Vanilla was with five other chimps in an outdoor enclosure that was about the size of a garage,” he said. “It was made from chain-link fencing on all sides and up top, with a dirt and concrete floor.”


“She is clearly elated to have suddenly found freedom.”
Save the Chimps

While the chimps weren’t subject to cruel testing like at LEMSIP, the digs were still less than ideal, especially due to the frequent wildfires which burned the place down in 2017.

Vanilla lived at the Wildlife Waystation until it went out of business in 2019, whereupon the embattled animal had to be relocated yet again.

This time, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife worked with the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance to finally find Vanilla and Shake a happy home. 

In 2022, they relocated to Save the Chimps, a once-contaminated orange grove that was converted veritable chimp Valhalla with 12 man-made Islands spanning 150 acres. Best of all, each isle is surrounded by water so the animals don’t have to be fenced in.


“Vanilla was so shy when she first arrived at Save the Chimps. She didn’t really know what to do in the grass and on the ground.”
via REUTERS

Despite the accommodations, it took a minute for Vanilla to adjust after a lifetime of living in claustrophobic and cruel conditions.

“Vanilla was so shy when she first arrived at Save the Chimps,” said Mathews. “She was in one of our large outdoor enclosures to be in quarantine and to be assessed, she rarely came down from her platform up on top of the enclosure.”

He added, “She didn’t really know what to do in the grass and on the ground.”

She’s come a long way from her cramped cage.


“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.”
via REUTERS

Save the Chimps’ primatologist Dr. Andrew Halloran, who shared the video, said that Vanilla gets along great with the other 18 apes on her island and has a special bond with alpha male Dwight, from “whom she steals food.

“Vanilla is settling in very well,” he explained. “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.”

“Vanilla has a long future; she can live here for another 30 or 40 years,” said Mathews. “She’s not in the wild, but she’s in a habitat as close to the wild as can be managed for a chimp that was born in captivity.”

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