Every animal has a story, and for World Chimpanzee Day, I want to tell you David’s.
David is a chimp who now lives at Second Chance Chimpanzee Refuge, our sanctuary in Liberia. Fiercely loyal to his friends (fellow chimpanzees Rose, Jiminy Cricket and Tipsy), David often patrols the edge of the island where they live. He happily accepts visits twice per day from the sanctuary’s caregivers, who provide him and his friends their meals, replete with his favorite food: bananas.
But before David found his friends and made Second Chance his home, he went through many hardships that are sadly emblematic of the myriad threats facing chimpanzees. Captured from the wild when he was just an infant, David was torn from his mother, who was likely killed, and kept as a pet. Then, when David wasn’t yet 2 years old, his owners dropped him off at a laboratory.
Over the next two decades, David was used in many painful experiments. He was tranquilized 372 times and endured 42 liver biopsies. During one experiment, he suffered an injury to his foot that became infected so many times the injury permanently affected the use of his leg. Because of his submissive nature and the extremely close quarters of the lab’s cages, David was frequently attacked by the chimps sharing his cage, resulting in multiple wounds, including one that resulted in the loss of a toe and another that required sutures. David now has arthritis and depends on long-term pain medication to improve his quality of life.
Despite all he had been through, David’s sweet-natured personality never changed: He has always been a gentle, playful and friendly chimp. Given any opportunity with humans or chimps, David would try to initiate playtime even if he could only do so through the metal bars of his cage.
When the laboratory ended its research in the early 2000s, the chimpanzees it used as specimens were retired to large islands where they could live in a semi-natural environment. This type of life clearly suited David: His foot injury began to improve, and he was able to more freely bond and play with his fellow chimps.
But struggles still remained ahead for David. In 2015, the organization that ran the laboratory pulled out of Liberia, which left the retired chimps living on the islands with little access to food or fresh water. We stepped in to provide emergency care to the chimps, and since then, HSI/Liberia has committed to the lifelong care of the chimpanzees, David and his friends included.
In the last few years, we have made several significant improvements to the sanctuary, including repairing and maintaining the chimps’ drinking water systems; hiring a team of more than 30 people to provide direct care and ensure smooth operations; enhancing veterinary care, including birth control measures; and bringing on a full-time director and veterinarian. We are also planning to construct infrastructure on the islands that will enhance the chimps’ care, as well as a veterinary clinic and administrative buildings on our mainland site. This is a complex, multi-year project that is nearing the end of the design stage, with contractors preparing to start initial construction soon.
Being able to give David and the more than 60 other chimps at Second Chance the lives they deserve is such an honor. And it is thanks to our supporters who make such lifechanging work possible that David’s later years can be spent in happiness.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.