A Tribute to Jeannie Mama
Jeannie had a very kind, caring, compassionate, and gentle nature, so it’s no wonder she was affectionately known as Jeannie Mama. She helped raise some of the younger members of Bobby’s group and lovingly watched over each family member every day.
Jeannie Mama would often share her food with the other chimps, console anyone who was upset, and would always look behind her when going onto or leaving the island to make sure no one was left behind.
Bobby’s family consists of two separate groups because of social dynamics.
Jeannie Mama would often go back and forth from the smaller group to the larger group so that she could spend time with all the chimps who loved her.
Because of her sweet and caring demeanor, Jeannie Mama was always one of the first chimps to meet any new family members. Earlier this year, Jeannie was introduced to Terry, Indie, and Cayenne. New friendships were formed by all, but Terry and Jeannie seemed to have fallen in love. They would often be seen together holding hands, grooming, or simply enjoying each other’s company.
When Tarzan, one of our newest residents, arrived at the Sanctuary, Jeannie Mama was one of the first chimpanzee he met. She immediately hugged and comforted him as if to assure him that he was no longer alone.
Jeannie Mama was an inspiration and had a heart of gold. The strength she had through the end of her life was remarkable, yet came as no surprise considering who she was. On her final day, the entire staff gathered to be with her. She touched the lives of everyone who knew her, both chimp and human.
Rest in peace, Jeannie Mama. Thank you for showing us the true meaning of love.
I was likely born in Sierra Leone, Africa, around 1964, though the details of my capture are unknown. Between the 1950s-1970s, it was common for chimpanzees to be imported from the wild and sold into biomedical research. Because adult chimpanzees are incredibly strong, mothers and other group members were typically killed in an effort to obtain infants. My records do not state what year I entered biomedical research, but I spent many years in a lab called Buckshire, then moved to the Coulston Foundation in 1982, where I remained for the next 20 years. The Coulston Foundation (TCF) was a notorious laboratory in Alamogordo, New Mexico, with extensive Animal Welfare Act violations. I was used in TCF’s breeding program, and had at least four children and two miscarriages during my time in the lab. Notes in my file described me as a good mother to my infants, but my children were nonetheless taken from me at birth to be raised in the laboratory nursery. I was sedated regularly with the drug ketamine for routine physical exams and pregnancy tests. In 1984, my records state that I bumped my head while coming out of anesthesia and was sent into isolation to be observed. My records do not state how long my isolation lasted. By 1994, notes in my file described me as overweight and hypertensive; I was also described as “moody” by my care staff from the lab.
Everything changed for me in 2002, when the Coulston Foundation went bankrupt after multiple Animal Welfare Act violations and Save the Chimps stepped in to rescue me and 265 other chimpanzees. Suddenly, I had fresh fruit and vegetables, enrichment, and most importantly, other chimpanzees for companionship. After Save the Chimps took over the laboratory, I was introduced to a chimp named Ethyl and her young son Normand. I immediately became Normand’s favorite second guardian, finally able to use my mothering skills. My group, called Bobby’s family, moved to our new sanctuary home in Florida, and young Normand grew into a magnificent teenage chimp who is now affectionately called “Big Norm.” His mother sadly passed away, but I still fulfill the role as Norm’s adopted mom. With the love and support from me and the rest of our family, Norm has grown into the alpha male of our group. I still hug and reassure Norm when he is upset, and spend a great deal of time with him each day. In fact, I am described by care staff as the matriarch of my entire family, and am endearingly called “Jeannie Mama” by my caregivers. Elderly and respected, I am kind, loyal, and gentle with all of the chimps in my family.
I love to be outside on my large 3-arce island. The process of moving all of the chimpanzees from New Mexico to Florida took 9 years, and when Bobby’s family arrived to our island home in 2009, I felt grass beneath my feet for the first time in over 40 years. Now I can almost always be spotted outside, relaxing in the sunshine and napping on platforms with my friends. I also love looking at myself in mirrors, especially inspecting my teeth and tongue. I make large, majestic nests from blankets and other soft materials. My favorite foods are vegetables, especially romaine lettuce. But what I love most is taking care of others.
In fact, a video of me affectionately welcoming Terry as a new friend has recently gone viral, and for good reason! In this video, Terry and I hold hands upon meeting one another for the first time, and neither of us seems to want to let go. Terry lived alone for 18 years, and he sometimes has a difficult time interacting with chimps he doesn’t know. I quickly reassured Terry, letting him know he could feel safe with me. Not long after the video was taken, Terry was released onto Bobby’s island for the first time since moving to the new island habitat (he previously lived on a different island at the Sanctuary). When he stepped outside with me and a few other friends, he seemed to want to follow me, but was anxious to go very far onto the island. I went back for Terry, hugging and reassuring him. This convinced Terry that everything was going to be okay, and he followed me to explore our vast 3-acre island.
Everyone who knows me – from our senior veterinarian to volunteers – describes me as one of the sweetest chimpanzees in the world. Though I was once described as “moody” during my years in the Coulston Foundation, I now steal the hearts of all who know me through my warmth, sweetness, and kindness.