The heartwarming reaction of a former research chimpanzee seeing the open sky for the first time is now eliciting sunny smiles nationwide.
Vanilla, 29, recently stepped out onto her new 3-acre home at Save The Chimps‘ nonprofit sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, and into the arms of an alpha male who was waiting to welcome her.
After giving that chimp, Dwight, a hug, she looks up and sees the sky. A broad grin instantly lights up her features before she rushes off into the greenery to explore.
“It is the first time she was outdoors with more than 10 feet of fence around her on all sides from top to bottom,” said Dan Mathews, with Save The Chimps.
Vanilla spent the first two years of her life at a now-shuttered biomedical research lab in New York, where she lived in a 5’x5’x7’ cage suspended above the ground, according to Save the Chimps.
From there, she relocated to a rescue in California, where she shared a space “about the size of a garage” with five other chimps. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife relocated Vanilla in 2019 when that rescue closed, according to news.
Along with her sister Shake, Shake’s adopted chimp baby Magic, and two other chimps named Jeff and Ernesta, Vanilla flew from California to Orlando, where the chimps then boarded a climate-controlled semi truck to make it to their home at the sanctuary.
After undergoing a necessary quarantine period and an assessment to see which chimp community she’d fit best, Vanilla now spends her days foraging, exploring, grooming her family, stealing food from Dwight, and perching on top of a 3-story climbing tower.
Matthews told Lady Freethinker that Vanilla is adapting very well, retaining her playful personality and her friendship with Dwight, and “clearly elated to have found freedom.” He added she’ll likely spend her next 30 to 40 years at the sanctuary doing whatever she chooses to do.
“She seems glad to have her own world, to finally have the closest thing to a natural habitat,” he told news. “She is embracing it.”