The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2011-05-10
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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In 1997 Gloria Grow started a sanctuary for chimps retired from biomedical research on her farm outside Montreal. For the indomitable Gloria, caring for thirteen great apes is like presiding over a maximum security prison, a Zen sanctuary, an old folks' home, and a New York deli during the lunchtime rush all rolled into one. But she is first and foremost creating a refuge for her troubled chargesa place where they can recover and begin to trust humans again. Hoping to win some of this trust, the journalist Andrew Westoll spent months at Fauna Farm as a volunteer and vividly recounts his time in the chimp house and the histories of its residents. He arrives with dreams of striking up an immediate friendship with the legendary Tom, the wise face of The Great Ape Protection Act, but Tom seems all too content to ignore him. Gradually, though, old man Tommie and the rest of the "troop" begin to warm toward Westoll as he learns the routines of life at the farm and realizes just how far the chimps have come. Seemingly simple things like grooming, establishing friendships and alliances, and playing games with the garden hose are all poignant testaments to the capacity of these animals to heal. Brimming with empathy and winning stories of Gloria and her charges,The Chimps of Fauna Farmis an absorbing, big-hearted book that grapples with questions of just what we owe to the animals who are our nearest genetic relations.

Table of Contents

Chimphouse Floor Planp. xi
Full-Moon Weekp. 1
Zihuatanejo, Quebecp. 15
Our Disquieting Doublesp. 35
Blueprints of a Dreamp. 51
The Cage Hospitalp. 65
Toby and the Hoodlumsp. 82
Operation Cucarachasp. 115
Tales from the Campfirep. 129
The Pressure Washerp. 145
Inner Sanctuaryp. 171
War Memorialsp. 193
The Hauntedp. 224
The End of an Erap. 248
Afterwordp. 259
How You Can Help the Chimpsp. 263
Further Readingp. 265
Acknowledgmentsp. 267
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter 1

I am not interested in why man commits evil.
I want to know why he does good.
— VÁclav Havel

Chimp Art
“Smell my phone,” says Gloria Grow as I climb into her Jeep at
Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. She guns the engine and hands me her
cell phone. “Go on. Smell it.”
 These are Gloria’s first words to me in person. We’ve already
had two long phone conversations, between my home in Toronto
and her farm in Quebec. By the end of those talks she’d invited me
to move in with her family and write a book about them. But at no
point did Gloria seem like the sort of person who would ask a virtual
stranger to smell her phone.
 There is nothing peculiar about the cell, a standard-issue flip
phone. But upon closer inspection I notice a constellation of little
divots — are they bite marks? — punched into the bright pink casing.
I look at Gloria. She is frowning. A construction detour has
sent us in circles.
 “Go on,” she says again. I raise the phone to my nose.
 I smell a swamp. Rotten fruit. Fecal matter. The reek of a tropical
 “I love it,” I say.
 “Me too. Richard got me pink. I hate pink. But now I can’t bear
to throw it out. Open it.”
 I flip the casing open, and the LCD comes to life. But instead of
showing an orderly sequence of numbers and icons, the screen is a
mess, a muddy squelch of black ink. The phone has been crushed,
or chewed, beyond repair.
 “These roads!” says Gloria, making her third consecutive lefthand
turn. Then she reaches over and presses her thumb into the
phone’s screen. The inky cloud morphs into kaleidoscopic rainbows.
 “Isn’t that beautiful?” she says without looking over. “It’s like
chimp art.”
 I fiddle with the cell phone, making a few of my own psychedelic
impressions on the screen. As we descend an exit ramp to nowhere,
Gloria sighs. She reaches over and tears the phone from my
hand. Closing her eyes, she presses the phone to her nose and inhales
 “They only gave it back to me yesterday.”

Cat Lady

This is the story of a family of troubled animals who live on a
farm in the French Canadian countryside. It is the story of how
these animals came to be so troubled and how they are slowly becoming
less so, in their own particular ways, through the actions of
a small group of people led by Gloria Grow.
 When I say these animals are a family, I don’t mean they share
a mother or father or brothers or sisters (although some of them
surely do). They are a family in the sense that any group of beings
who have lived together, suffered together, and triumphed together
becomes a family. They are related in the way we are all related to
one another, and here lies the source of their great misfortune.
 I first contacted Gloria in 1998, when I was a college biology student.
I wrote to inquire about volunteer opportunities at the Fauna
Foundation, the sanctuary for rescued animals that Gloria had recently
founded with her partner, a veterinarian named Richard Al-
lan, on their 240-acre hobby farm near Chambly. The foundation
had recently been all over the local, national, and international
news because it had just become the permanent retirement home
for a very special group of chimpanzees.
 At the time I was one of thousands of young biology students
who, inspired by the usual suspects (Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, the
breathless David Attenborough), would have done just about anything
to get a job either working with or studying great apes — the
orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees most of us have
seen only in a zoo or in the pages of National Geographic. So when
I first heard of Fauna, I couldn’t believe it. The place sounded like
my own personal Shangri-la. Imagine: an opportunity to experience
chimpanzee behavior in the flesh, just a short drive from Canada’s
most sophisticated and seductive city, thereby removing the
need to fund a kamikaze trek to the remote Central African rainforest
(something I, at a much younger age, had briefly considered until
I did a little reading and learned what the “civil” in “civil war”
actually meant).
 I didn’t know why the chimps had been shipped to Fauna from
their home in New York State. I knew nothing of what they’d been
subjected to there or of the struggles each one faced in adjusting to
retirement in Canada. All I knew was I wanted to work with them.
Looking back, I find it unsettling how selfish my curiosity really
 Unfortunately, life got in the way, and the volunteering idea
came to nothing. Soon after that I was offered a dream job of a different
sort. After graduating, I spent a year in the jungles of Suriname,
just north of the Amazon rainforest, studying wild troops of
brown capuchin monkeys. Though they’re no great apes, capuchins
are known as the chimpanzees of the New World for their intelligence
and primitive forms of tool use. I was employed by the University
of Florida, funded by the National Science Foundation and
the Leakey Foundation. My dreams fulfilled, my interests served,
the chimpanzees of Fauna became a distant memory.
Fast-forward more than a decade, then, throw in a career shift
from scientist to writer, and here I am with Gloria, searching for
a way out of Montreal, struggling to correlate the embarrassing
mental image I’d had of her with the real-life version sitting next
to me.
 The stereotype of the woman who dedicates her life to rescuing
animals is a surprisingly powerful cultural image. Often referred to
as the Crazy Cat Lady, but by no means limited to felines, she shuffl
es around in moldy slippers, the backs of her hands are raked with
claw marks, and at any moment a minimum of four living creatures
are buried somewhere in the folds of her robe. This woman is a
walking menagerie of frumpy disillusionment, in desperate need of
the unconditional love only an animal can provide. And although
that image is a cruel exaggeration, I was half-expecting some variation
on it when I climbed into the Jeep and finally met Gloria, more
than ten years after my first attempt.
 Gloria is nothing like that imaginary Cat Lady. Small but fullfi
gured, with shoulder-length dark blond hair worn half up in a clip,
she is disarmingly attractive, her face deeply tanned, her makeup
tasteful, her smile full of intelligence. She is very fit, her shoulders
and upper arms packed with the strength of a farmhand. She wears
an elegant beige top, expensive-looking jeans, black sandals, and
dark-framed glasses, a chic outfit that belies her age (mid-fifties),
her roots (blue-collar Quebec), and her mode of transport (a dusty
Jeep that smells vaguely of farm). As our quest for an escape route
continues, Gloria speaks about the effects of captivity on animals,
while my first impression of her changes to that of a woman caught
between opposing worlds — something that could also be said of
the Crazy Cat Lady.
 “It’s like Shawshank Redemption, right?” she says of the diffi
culties facing rescued animals. “The librarian finally gets out of
prison, and what does he do? He kills himself.” Gloria pulls a hard
right, and we careen onto a packed highway. “Found it. The 20-
East.” She punches the gas. “We’re free!”

Down on the Farm

In fifteen minutes we reach a major crossroad, a huge parcel
of former pastureland now inhabited by a dizzying metropolis of
big-box stores, movie cinemas, restaurants, and parking lots. Soon
enough, we’re driving along a pleasant country road, surrounded
mostly by fields of corn and alfalfa, with occasional houses backing
onto acres of open land. Another turn onto an even quieter road, a
few more meanderings past farms and old barns, and we’ve completed
our departure from the hurly-burly. We arrive at a stretch
of white picket fencing that looks plucked from the western frontier
circa 1890. Gloria slows, and I take in my first glimpse of her
home — now my home, too, if only for a few months.
 The large farmhouse where Gloria and Richard live is partly
hidden behind a copse of trees, but I get a glimpse of its rural heritage
— the gabled roof, the pillared veranda. To the left of the drive,
in a narrow pasture, two cream-colored llamas are resting in the
shade. A few billy goats nibble lazily at the grasses behind them.
 We creep down the drive, the gravel crackling under our tires.
At a gate, Gloria lowers her window, and I hear the wild barking of
dogs, perhaps a whole pack of them. Then, from a small stable, two
impressive horses emerge. One is black with a glint of gray, with
white-booted back legs and a white stripe down his muzzle. The
other, slightly taller, is a delicious chestnut brown with a gleaming
black mane. As the horses get closer, I realize the black one must be
fairly old, his gait hobbled in the rear.
 “There’s Jethro and McLeod, coming to say hello,” says Gloria.
“Eeyore’s around here somewhere.”
 I spot an elderly gray donkey behind the stable. He stands perfectly
still, his ears twitching, his gaze fixed intently on our passing
Jeep, as if he’s on surveillance, compiling data on our whereabouts
and reporting back to some donkey strike force. I’ve never felt entirely
comfortable around donkeys. I consider mentioning this to
Gloria but decide it’s probably best to keep it to myself for now.
  “There he is,” says Gloria, waving to Eeyore over her shoulder.
“What a grumpy old man.”
 Continuing down the drive, we pass a small bungalow. This is
the Fauna office, where I will be living for the next few months in
the basement apartment. Gloria doesn’t stop, though, and a beautiful
country pond opens up on our left. Families of ducks and Canada
geese cruise the surface, and two white swans sit preening on
a promontory of rocks. A majestic fountain of water rises up in
the center, and in the distance a gray heron high-steps through the
shallows, hunting minnows and frogs.
 On the far side of the pond are two barns with a tractor parked
between them. A raging bonfire coughs a plume of black smoke
into the air. Every now and then, an ATV with a payload of lumber
zips past the blaze. A cacophony of sounds drifts across the water
— the buzz of lawn mowers, the growl of a chain saw, the echoing
thuds of a hammer. Fauna is much more than a mere hobby
farm, I realize; it is a place of perpetual labor. Since we arrived, the
walkie-talkie on Gloria’s belt has been humming with the industrious
voices of her French Canadian staff.
 Between the pond and the driveway are immaculate gardens,
with quaint pathways winding through them. A few rustic benches
sit among the flowers, just a few weeks from full bloom. At a small
clearing, Gloria slows.
 A peculiar building comes into sight, three stories high, on
maybe an acre of ground. The structure, surrounded by chainlink
and electric fencing, resembles a medium-security prison. Above
the entrance, a caged balcony looks tacked on, almost as an afterthought.
But this is not what makes the building peculiar. The
strange part is the chutelike appendage that protrudes from the second
floor and stretches toward the pond we’ve just passed. Made of
steel caging, it is supported by thick pillars reaching fifteen feet to
the ground. It looks like some postapocalyptic contraption from the
set of Mad Max.
 Before I can ask Gloria about this, she directs my attention to
our right, where an imposing steel cage sits in a thicket of native
sumacs. The cage is about the size of a clothes closet, seven feet
high and five feet wide. A small metal box with a hole in the top is
affixed to the side. An old truck tire hangs from rusted chains inside
the cage. The whole thing looks like something out of a medieval
 Gloria says nothing about the cage. We just creep past in silence.
Then we rumble over a wooden bridge, and she parks in front of
the chimphouse.
 “Now remember,” she says, climbing out of the Jeep, “today’s
crazy.” She throws open a chainlink gate. “It’s full-moon week, so
everyone’s a little off.”
 I’m a bit astonished. I hadn’t expected Gloria to take me inside
on my first day. By the time we reach the front door I’ve understood
that by “everyone” she is not referring to her staff.

Full-Moon Week

The first thing I notice upon walking into the Fauna chimphouse
is not, as I’d expected, the smell, a brooding stench of compost,
urine, flatulence, and feces that apparently makes some visitors
vomit. And it is not the sweltering humidity, an absurdity
considering our northern locale.
 No, the first thing I notice is the fear, which runs up my spine
like a silverfish as Gloria leads me down a dark corridor. It is a familiar
feeling, reminding me how I felt the first few times I walked
alone in the jungles of Suriname, with only a machete to protect
myself from the menagerie of rainforest predators. But this is not
Suriname, and despite the smell and the heat, it is not a place where
a bushmaster or a jaguar might roam. So I begin to wonder: is this
my fear, or is it perhaps someone else’s?
 As we walk, an eerie sound rises, like something large and hollow
being dragged across the floor.
 Gloria turns to face me. “Rules,” she says. “First: take your
jacket off. The bigger you look, the more threatening you are. Second:
you’re tall, so I need you to crouch. Third: do not stand too
close to me. They don’t interpret it properly. They can’t control
it. It’s threatening. Four: respect the red lines on the floor. They’re
there for a reason. Inside the red, believe me, they will try to get
 “What’s that sound?”
 “The welcoming committee.” Gloria smiles. “They already
know you’re here.”
 We walk on. The dragging grows louder. Then a terrible boom
detonates up ahead. It echoes throughout the building, a crash of
something extremely dense slamming into a wall of steel. I stop
dead. The crash is followed by eerie silence; I hear birds chirping.
But a few seconds later an identical blast goes off, followed by another
and another, and I decide no, this fear may have started out as
someone else’s, but now it’s entirely mine. The building fills with
the booms. The cement walls seem to shake with the noise.
 “Full-moon week,” says Gloria between the blasts. “Everyone’s
in such a good mood.”
 I think of that machete and how good it would feel in my hand
right now. I think of those nineteenth-century explorers who refused
to enter the Congo without an arsenal of guns, for fear of attack
by the murderous beasts known as kivili-chimpenze (Bantu for
“mock-man”). One researcher actually built himself a cage in the
jungle so that he could observe chimpanzees in safety. It wasn’t until
1960, when the young Jane Goodall entered the Tanzanian rainforest
accompanied by her mother, that Western culture slowly began
to lose its irrational fear of the chimpanzee.
 Easier said than done, I think, as a different sound now emerges
above the fray — the chimpanzee pant-hoot. It begins almost imperceptibly,
a series of low-pitched hooing sounds, as if someone were
panting in and out through their mouth. It builds slowly, the hooing
getting faster, louder, the in-breaths growing shorter and the outs
longer, uh-hoo, uh-hooo, uh-hoooo, until finally they climax in a se-
quence of hysterical, near-human shrieks. The silverfish scuttles up
my neck. My ears ring. Then silence. The birds. Scraping. Pounding.
More howls. I turn a corner and come across a woman.
 Her back turned to us, she is folding linens from a towering pile
of laundry. When the woman sees me out of the corner of her eye,
her body quakes, and she lets loose a terrified scream. For an instant
her voice extinguishes the crashes and shrieks, and a flurry of bed
sheets parachutes to the floor. A moment later, realizing what species
I am, the woman grasps her chest with her hands, rolls her head
back, and in a spasm of hysterical French thanks God for sparing
her life.
 “I thought a chimp was out,” she says breathlessly. “I thought
you were a chimpanzee.”
 And that’s when I see him. Over the laundry lady’s shoulder,
past Gloria. A massive black body behind a wall of steel caging,
thundering back and forth.
“Come and meet Binky,” says Gloria, waving me over. “It’s OK.
Really. Come and meet the Bub.”

Of all the dramatic arrivals and new beginnings that have occurred
in the Fauna chimphouse over the years, few can compare with one
that happened on a cool September day back in 1997, when the first
members of Gloria’s new family arrived at sanctuary.
 Late that morning, a black pickup truck towing an ordinary
horse trailer pulled into the Fauna Foundation’s driveway after a
long journey. It had begun before dawn in the Ramapo Mountains,
about an hour’s drive north of New York City. But for the animals
inside that horse trailer, arrival at Fauna marked the end of a much
longer and more difficult journey, one that had lasted their entire
 Inside that trailer were seven young chimpanzees. Until that
morning they had been the property of New York University and
had lived at a biomedical research facility called the Laboratory for
Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates, or LEMSIP. As re-
search subjects, these animals had endured years of pain and deprivation
as living test tubes for the study of human diseases. They’d
been torn from their mothers just days after birth. They’d been imprisoned
in cages, sometimes in solitary confinement. They’d undergone
blood draws, invasive surgeries, and viral experiments. Some
had been knocked unconscious with dart guns almost every week.
 And when the trailer turned in to the Fauna driveway that morning,
these animals were met by a distinctly human welcoming committee
and became the sole responsibility of Gloria Grow.
 Over the next few months, those seven were joined by eight
more chimps from LEMSIP, many of them much older and more
troubled, some having been singled out for infection with multiple
strains of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, in studies
aimed at developing a vaccine for AIDS. Upon arriving at Fauna,
these animals became the first HIV-positive research chimps on the
planet to be retired to a sanctuary.
 As the years passed, these apes were joined by four more from
nearby zoos. Six members of this assorted family have since died.
The day I arrive, the Fauna Foundation is home to thirteen chimpanzees,
all of whom bear the psychological and, in some cases,
physical wounds of having spent much of their lives either in biomedical
research or simply behind the bars of a cage. This is their
retirement. This is their Shangri-la. And with Gloria’s help, they’ve
slowly begun to heal

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