Dodo Contributor: Rachel Clark is a science writer, biologist and author of the blog Mothering Nature at Psychology Today.
Patti turned 32 years old on September 11, though she has no concept that her birthdate rings a dark toll around the world or that she's nearing the end of being in advertising's choice demographic. She has a sister, Thiele, who was there at her party, both of them boisterous and excited. Patti and Thiele are lucky; they are together now in some remote semblance of family. Patti and Thiele are chimpanzees. Born in captivity, Patti performed for the first 14 years of her life at Marine World in California. While they were small they were manageable, but once a chimp hits maturity, she can be eight times stronger than a grown man. Such power is dangerous to humans. After just seven years, Patti and Thiele were sold. And they were separated from each other for nine years.
Enter Chimps Inc. A true sanctuary, Chimp's Inc. has one goal: to provide a comfortable and nourishing life-long retirement for chimpanzees who've lost the chance to live wild. Founded by Leslie Day, it sits in the high desert of central Oregon between horse farms and hay fields. Years ago, Day dreamt of having a pet chimpanzee but when she realized that "keeping chimps as pets could lead to tragedy" (as others have discovered), she went in the opposite direction. Day flew from Oregon to upstate New York in 1993 to meet Topo, a male chimpanzee who'd been kept in dark garage for almost 20 years. The instant her eyes met his, they formed a bond, and she knew right then that her mission in life was to offer lifetime sanctuary to chimpanzees in need. "She decided to create a sanctuary, to give these chimps a chance to recover ... and to be chimps," says Marla O'Donell, Executive Director of Chimps Inc. "It changed her life. But more important, it changed the lives of the animals who live here now." New research confirms that chimps reared with humans are fundamentally diminished, so chimps that find sanctuary get a chance at living a much fuller life that is more aligned with their wild nature.