I will never forget the day I was rescued from the Coulston Foundation. I was huddled in a dank, cold concrete cage with my dear friend, Tami, all the way at the end of a dark hallway known as “The Dungeon.” By that time, Tami and I were both elderly, skinny and frail, and Tami was missing part of her leg. One day, an unfamiliar woman walked up to our cage. When she pulled lip balm out of her pocket, we were startled and afraid, unsure what she would do to us. Her name was Dr. Carole Noon, and as she greeted us, we could see the anguish in her eyes. That day, she promised she would not let us die in that cold, dark prison. And she kept her promise.
My name is Henrietta, but my friends call me Henri. I was probably born in the 1960’s, maybe in Africa, but no one knows for sure. All I know is that I was sold to the Coulston Foundation in 1985 by a lab called Buckshire Corporation. I traveled there with three other chimps: Spock (now also a resident of STC); Foxie (who is now a resident of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest); and Mimi, who died less than a year after she arrived at Coulston. Within months of my arrival, I was placed in the breeding program. There I was forced to meet male after male after male, but never became pregnant. Later it was discovered that I had endometriosis and abdominal adhesions, which is probably what kept me from becoming pregnant.
In 1992, I was assigned to a biomedical research study on a drug called Clofibrate. Why this drug was being studied in chimpanzees is unknown. The drug had been approved by the FDA years earlier, but it was shown to have dangerous side effects in humans in the early 1980’s, long before the chimpanzee study commenced.
By 1995, I wasn’t being used for breeding or biomedical research, but I was still warehoused in The Dungeon. Most of the chimps in The Dungeon were caged in solitary confinement, but I was lucky to share my tiny concrete and steel cage with my best friend Tami. Over the years, we clung to each other in our bare concrete quarters, two senior citizens slowly wasting away in the dark.
Then, in 2002, Dr. Noon arrived and a miracle happened. Save the Chimps (STC) took over the Coulston Foundation and gained custody of me, Tami, and the more than 200 other chimps who lived there. For the first time in our lives, Tami and I were given nutritious food, soft blankets and even toys. Tami had a favorite stuffed lamb that she treated as she would her own child. STC renovated The Dungeon to include the addition of a “penthouse:” four extra feet of height that gave us a view of the outdoors. Tami and I loved to sit together watching the sunset from our penthouse in the evenings.
The renovations also allowed us to meet and interact with other chimps who had also been housed in the dank halls of The Dungeon. We greatly enjoyed reconnecting with our neighbors. One of our new friends was Doc, who was actually Tami’s long lost son. (I was quite enamored with Doc, even though he was younger than me—and my best friend’s son!)
Tami and I joined forces with another older male, Tarzan, and we were the first adult chimpanzees on the Great Chimpanzee Migration. Dr. Noon wanted to keep her promise to us, and, as senior citizens, she did not want us to endure one more harsh New Mexico winter. When we arrived in Florida, we met two younger chimps, Kiley and Rowan, and became a family. My dear friends Tami and Tarzan have passed away, and Rowan eventually bonded with other chimps. But my sweet friend Kiley has stuck with me through thick and thin, and today we are both members of a large family group known as Kiley’s Family. Our group also includes my friend Christopher (who is another of Tami’s sons), Virgil, Jaybee, Norene, Ariel, and many others.
I’m told that I am a pistol. I take a long time to warm up to other chimps, but, like Dr. Noon, I am fiercely loyal. Once I decide you are my friend, you are my friend for life. My new family gives me great comfort, and together we enjoy the wide open spaces of our grassy island home. We love to hang out together at “The Saloon,” which is a large platform with a Western-movie type façade that was built just for us. I am grateful to call this place home. I will never forget my dear friend Tami, who suffered so much during our years in The Dungeon, or Dr. Noon, who was brave enough to walk down that dark hallway and set us free.
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