As the eldest of her group of fellow rescuees (the sanctuary will be celebrating her 41st birthday on June 13th), and as a chimpanzee who clearly knows what she wants and when she wants it, she commands respect.
Sadly, it took over 30 years and a lifetime of heartache before she was given the chance to have the admiration and deference she so deserves.
Captured in Africa
Like many chimpanzees her age who now live in captivity, Negra’s life began in the forests of Africa. She could have grown up in a large family group, caring for her young and teaching them how to use tools, forage for food, and make nests.
Instead, in 1973, when Negra was just an infant, she was stolen from her home. Her mother was probably killed and sold for meat, or just left in the forest to rot, while Negra was shipped across the world to the United States to be used in biomedical testing.
Decades in Biomedical Research
Negra spent the next 35 years being used as a tool by the biomedical testing industry. She was largely unknown during those years. Though given the name Negra by her captors, she was probably more commonly known by the number tattooed on her chest: CA0041.
She was used as a breeder – producing more chimpanzee test subjects for the laboratory. Two of her three babies were taken from her immediately after they left her womb, and a third she spent just five days with before she too was removed to be raised in the laboratory nursery.
Negra was also used in hepatitis vaccine research. This testing required her to be knocked down repeatedly for blood draws and surgical liver biopsies.
On March 31, 1986, the lab techs reported that Negra had a suspected infectious disease, and a veterinarian ordered her to be put into isolation. While Negra never lived in a large group during her years in biomedical research, she was housed near other chimpanzees and sometimes in a cage with a companion. But from the spring of 1986 to early 1988, Negra was in complete isolation. Test results concluded that she never had an infectious disease.
Though the first 35 years of her life were spent in boredom and fear, Negra is putting that past behind her. On June 13, 2008, she, along with six other chimpanzees – Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, and Missy – arrived at a place like no other she had seen before. This new place was safe. It was filled with the things she loved. It was the first real home she had experienced since being ripped from her African homeland.
The staff, volunteers, and supporters at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, as well as her chimpanzee family, now properly honor her as the Queen.
Negra is given as many blankets as she wants to make huge, comfy nests and to wear draped over her head and shoulders. She is given her favorite food – peanuts – both first thing in the morning and as part of “night-bags” at the end of the day. All of the chimpanzees at the sanctuary have grown to love night-bags, which also include seeds, dried fruit, and sometimes popcorn or other healthy treats. Negra knows full well that night bags come at the end of dinner and will often clap her hands together rapidly to let her caregivers know she would like speedier service to get to her favorite part of the meal. Her caregivers, of course, quickly oblige.
There is no doubt that Negra is a special chimpanzee. And so are all chimpanzees.
In some ways, Negra represents an era that has thankfully passed. It wasn’t long after her kidnapping that it became illegal to capture chimpanzees from the wild. This international ruling is not upheld as vigorously as it should be, and chimpanzees in the wild face extinction due to habitat destruction and illegal poaching, but at least the United States has put an end to their importation of chimpanzees from their natural habitat.
The use of chimpanzees in biomedical testing is also coming to an end, though, for many of us, it’s demise is frustratingly slow. There are still an estimated 900 plus chimpanzees in the United States that are being held for research. The National Institutes of Health, a branch of the federal government of the United States, is working to retire all but 50 of the chimpanzees that are owned or supported with taxpayer dollars.
Private laboratories, universities, and corporations own nearly half of the remaining chimpanzees in this country being held for biomedical testing. They are in a bit of a state of limbo right now, though a ruling expected to be made official very soon by the Fish and Wildlife Service will properly classify all chimpanzees as endangered (not just those in the wild), could impact whether it is even considered legal to use chimpanzees for invasive research in the U.S.
There are more Negras out there waiting for the sanctuary they so deserve.
Learn more about the Queen and her following here!
Lead image source : Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest