Watch Chimp's Reaction to Seeing Sky for First Time

Vanilla in awe upon being released into the open in Florida, after 28 years of being kept in cages
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2023 9:30 AM CDT

Imagine being alive for nearly three decades without ever seeing the sun. That's been the fate of Vanilla, a former research chimpanzee who's spent her entire 28 years inside cages—until recently, when she was transferred to a Florida primates sanctuary and was released into the open for the first time. The Save the Chimps group has video of Vanilla's first glimpse of the open sky, which shows the chimp initially seeming to hesitate at climbing out of a window and into the great outdoors. Then, the alpha male of her group, named Dwight, coaxes her out, giving her a hug before she turns to take in the scene around her.

Vanilla's look is one of wonder—it almost looks as if she's mouthing "Whoa." The camera then tracks the chimp as she wanders around the 12-island Fort Pierce property, occasionally turning her gaze up to once more view the sky. "My first time outside, [I] was in awe of the open sky, a sight I had never seen in my life as my former homes had cage tops," reads Vanilla's bio on the Save the Chimps website. Now, "I enjoy exploring ... and relaxing and grooming with my family." The Miami Herald notes that Vanilla, who'll turn 29 next month, spent her early years in a New York biomedical research lab, then was transferred to a Los Angeles animal sanctuary.

When that site closed in 2019, Vanilla and her sister, Shake, had to be rehomed. They arrived at the Save the Chimps sanctuary last July, and after a quarantine period, they were placed on one of the islands, a 3-acre one, in April, per the New York Post. Shortly after that, Vanilla experienced her first outside adventure, and the video of her reaction has gone viral. "She seems elated to have her own world, to finally have the closest thing to a natural habitat," Save the Chimps' Dan Mathews says, slamming both the California sanctuary and her previous captivity in a lab he says was targeted by Jane Goodall "as a hellhole." Much more on that here. (More chimpanzees stories.)

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