Elderly chimp’s story shows the immense progress we’ve made for animals in labs

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on July 13, 2023 with 10 Comments

Samantha was a little over a year old in 1976 when her world changed forever: The tiny chimpanzee was sold to a laboratory in Liberia by a resident of a nearby village. Like many of the other chimps at the lab, her parents had probably been killed by poachers so that Samantha could be sold. At the lab, researchers immediately began using Samantha in experiments.

Samantha, who now lives at Second Chance Chimpanzee Refuge, our sanctuary in Liberia, spent the next 25 years being subjected to invasive procedures and experiments. She learned to cope by becoming an expert escape artist. She would spend a good portion of each day figuring out new ways to escape by working away at wires or finding loose rocks to open the lock on her cage. The staff always knew when she had finally broken out, because all the chimps in the lab began to scream and yell. She never went far; instead, she would go cage to cage visiting the other chimps until she was tranquilized and returned to her cage.

After many years of escaping her cage, it was determined that she should be moved to the lab’s breeding colony, which was more secure. There, Samantha gave birth to three babies, but she never had a chance to raise them. The first two were taken from her to be raised by the staff. The staff did not have adequate knowledge to care for newborn chimpanzees and both babies died soon after. Samantha’s third baby also died, this one from unknown causes. But Samantha has persevered by directing her strong maternal instinct toward acting as a guardian for other young chimpanzees she encountered over the years.

In the early 2000s, the lab began phasing out its research on chimpanzees and moving the chimps to nearby islands. When Samantha was released from the holding cage onto Island 5, her new home, she was extremely excited and immediately ran into the forest with the rest of the island’s chimps right behind her. At first, Samantha and the other chimps hid in the forest and did not come to the shoreline to eat food brought by the caretakers. Instead, they subsisted on the small amounts of fruits, berries and leaves they found. Finally, after a few months, they realized that they could safely eat the food without being captured and slowly began to come to the shoreline when the caregivers arrived.

Samantha in the background as her crew of fellow chimps accepts food from their caregivers. Carol Guzy for The HSUS

Then, in 2015, the organization that ran the laboratory pulled out of Liberia, leaving the chimpanzees with little access to food or fresh water. We stepped in to provide emergency care to the chimps, and since then, we have committed to the lifelong care of the more than 60 chimpanzees on the five islands. Despite their heartbreaking past, these chimpanzees are resilient animals who have finally been given the peace and safety they deserve.

Today, Samantha is enjoying life as the eldest resident of the sanctuary and one of the dominant females on Island 5, where she enjoys her favorite foods of pineapple and rice balls. It’s our honor that we can give Samantha and the more than 60 other chimps at Second Chance the safety, security and independence they deserve. And our work to protect chimpanzees does not stop there.

Lolo, Samantha and Bullet enjoying a snack on their island. Katie Conlee/The HSUS

For decades we have fought to end the suffering of chimpanzees in labs. In 2000, we worked alongside a coalition of animal protections organizations to secure passage of the CHIMP Act, which created a federal sanctuary system for chimpanzees used in experiments. We then turned our focus to ending harmful experiments on chimpanzees—and in 2015 our petition to grant captive chimpanzees—including chimps in labs—the same protections that wild chimps had under the Endangered Species Act was successful. At the time, the U.S. was the only country that still used chimps in experiments. Now that they have protections, it is highly unlikely that chimps will ever be used in harmful research again.

Even after our successful campaign to end biomedical research on chimpanzees in the U.S., we did not stop fighting for chimps. Since then, we worked to ensure that chimps who were used in experiments. get the sanctuary life they deserve. We are also fighting in court to compel the National Institutes of Health to transfer government-owned chimpanzees who continue to languish in labs to the chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven. Chimps like Samantha deserve the best lives possible after all they’ve been through.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Karen M. Sheppard says:

    Excellent article – Thank You.

    Karen M. Sheppard
    Burlington, Vt

  2. Laura Meltzer says:

    You seem to have omitted the name of the organization that used these chimps for “research” and then backed out of its promise to care for them. I think it was the New York Blood Bank. That organization should not be spared from the consequences of its selfish choices and (if that is the name, or if it isn’t, you should name it) the public should always be reminded of its failure to support the chimps.

    • Margrith Rickenbacher says:

      Ich unterstütze die Forderung nach Veröffentlichung der Firmen und Namen der Tierschinder. Grundsätzlich sollte jeder Tierquäler, jede Tierquälerin mit Name und Adresse der Öffentlichkeit bekannt gemacht werden. Der dadurch entstehende gesellschaftliche Druck wird helfen, den Tierschutz voranzubringen.
      Thanks for your advance!

  3. Becky R. says:

    Great job Humane Society!

  4. Ulrich Stolarczyk says:

    The unability of human beings not to recognize that animals are living creatures, not industrial products, things makes it easy to hurt, torture animals. As long as we are not willing to lift their standard, animals suffer. – But empathic human beings can do something, sometimes a lot to help animals who are suffer.
    So do not lose your power and courage – we want better conditions for animals, even it is a hard fight.

  5. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    No podemos quitar el dedo del renglón estos animalitos merecen respeto y que los cuidemos tenemos que seguir luchando por ellos alzando la voz

  6. Barbara Liggett says:

    I am utterly ashamed of being a member of the human race when I hear about the diabolical pain and suffering we have inflicted on innocent animals. With very few exceptions, give me animals over humans any day! It’s about time animal abuse and suffering was treated far more severely by governments and courts worldwide. Anybody who can hurt any animal is absolutely vile in every way. God bless Samantha and her friends and I am so desperately sorry for the suffering they have endured and the same to any other animal that has suffered at the hands of humans. God bless all animals across the world

    • Janice says:

      Hello Barbara,
      You are truly a kindred soul—I have taken in any stray animal I find throughout my life (I currently have 4 cats). I love animals more than most people–they have more of the ‘positive attributes” that are usually attributed to people. No animal should ever be euthanized because it lacks a home…it just breaks my heart. I will never turn a homeless animal away….

  7. Janet M. Spriet says:

    I am spot on with Barbara. Humans are the worst predators on this planet. When the breeding facility in Virginia appreared in the news that they had over 4,000 beagles bred for human-based experimentation, I just got so angry. How can humans continue to abuse these sweet animals so badly. Finally, the Justice Department did something that the FDA inspectors have so easily ignored for years. We, as the most intelligent(??????) beings on this planet, need to change!!!

    • Janice says:

      We are a far cry from the most intelligent life on this planet, Janet. What we are is the biggest threat to life on this planet….

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