How sweet is the open sky?
A touching video caught the first time that Vanilla the chimpanzee — a 29-year-old survivor of New York’s infamous Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) — saw the open sky after arriving at the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Vanilla had never been outside of a 5-foot-square cage or a garage-sized enclosure until she moved in — and by the looks of it, she is spellbound by her new ape abode.
Vanilla lived in the notorious laboratory — which closed in 1997 — until she was 2.
She was then among a group transferred to California, where she was confined to a larger enclosure at a refuge that went out of business in 2019 and was threatened by wildfires.
Last year, the chimpanzee sanctuary arranged for FedEx to fly her and her group to the 150-acre Sunshine State location.
In the heartwarming video — which was shared at Friday’s American Society of Primatologists symposium in Reno by Save the Chimps’ primatologist Dr. Andrew Halloran — she was greeted with a huge hug by alpha male Dwight as she left her enclosure, gazed skyward and then explored her new island.
“In California, Vanilla lived with a handful of chimps inside a chain-link fence cage with no grass and very little enrichment,” Halloran told The Post.
Her new island refuge is home to 226 chimpanzees discarded from laboratories, the entertainment industry, the exotic pet trade and roadside zoos, according to the organization, and many have previously endured solitary confinement and never interacted with other chimps before.
“Vanilla is settling in very well,” he continued. “When she’s not exploring the island with her friends, she can usually be found perched atop a three-story climbing platform surveying her new world.”
Halloran assesses the personalities of each new chimp that arrives at the sanctuary to figure out which of its 12 chimp island communities is the best match.
And Vanilla apparently has found just the right one.
“She gets along with all of the other 18 chimps on her island,” Halloran said, “and has a particularly playful relationship with the alpha male Dwight — from whom she steals food.”
This is the heart-warming moment 29-year-old chimpanzee Vanilla explodes with joy as she sees the sky for the first time after being caged her entire life.
Adorable footage shows Vanilla as she is encouraged by alpha male Dwight to step outside into the open and is captured gawping at the sky in awe. This was the emotional first time the 29-year-old had been outside of a 5ft cage or enclosure.
After living in an experimental New York lab until she was two, Vanilla stayed in an enclosure where she was unable to see the sky clearly through the fenced roof in a Californian rescue facility.
Then she was moved to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Here, Vanilla is welcomed with a hug from Dwight as soon as she steps into the sanctuary, where she will live with 18 other primates. She looks overjoyed as she is greeted with open arms.
And as more of her primate housemates come over to greet her, she continues to look at the sky in disbelief.
On her move-in day to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, an adorable video captured Vanilla looking at the open sky in awe
The chimpanzee was greeted with a hug from the alpha male Dwight as soon as she stepped into the sanctuary, where she will live with 225 other primates, 18 of which live on her island. Vanilla was visibly delighted by the new environment
The video also shows her joyfully running around the three-acre island and sitting with her new family, who were grooming each other.
The video was taken by Save the Chimps’ primatologist Dr Andrew Halloran, who told the New York Post: ‘In California, Vanilla lived with a handful of chimps inside a chain-link fence cage with no grass and very little enrichment.’
Dr Halloran said that when Vanilla is not exploring her island with the other chimpanzees, she sits on top of a three-storey climbing platform overlooking her new world.
Vanilla, who is described by the Save the Chimps rescuers as independent, curious and intelligent, lives on one of 12 islands, which are separated from each other by small waterbeds. This allows the sanctuary to give the chimps their own open-sky playground.
Dr Halloran added that she gets on well with the 18 chimps on her island and said Vanilla enjoyed a special relationship with alpha male Dwight, from whom she sometimes steals food.
The island communities measure 150-acres in total and every chimp is matched to their island by a primatologist based on their personality and behaviour.
More of her new housemates were coming over the greet Vanilla as she kept looking into the camera and to the sky in disbelief
Vanilla lives on one of 12 islands, which are separated from each other by small waterbeds, allowing the sanctuary to give the chimps their own open-sky playground
The adorable footage also shows her joyfully running around the three-acre island
At the end of the video, she can be seen with her new family, who were grooming each other
When Vanilla is not exploring her new island with the other chimpanzees (pictured here), she sits on top of a three-storey climbing platform overlooking her new world
When Vanilla moved to the Save the Chimp facilities in Florida, she had to be quarantined (pictured above) before she could join her new family
Vanilla first lived in New York’s now-closed Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), where she was housed in five-square-foot cages hanging from the ceiling – similar to bird cages – until 1995.
Six cages were lined on opposing walls in the windowless building, where chimps could see one another but would cruelly be too far away to have any contact with each other.
There was no outdoor holding or exercise area, meaning Vanilla and the other chimpanzees there were confined to the tiny cages all day, causing them to be agitated and scared, according to a visitor who saw the terrible conditions in the facility first-hand.
Cages at New York’s now-closed LEMSIP lab are seen above, cramped spaces hanging from the ceiling lined on opposing walls in a windowless building. The chimps could see each other but were too far to benefit from contact
Aged two when she was moved from LEMSIP, she was among 30 chimpanzees sent to the Wildlife Waystation in California, and joined a small family group who stayed in an enclosure with a fenced roof.
Despite the conditions improving from the experimental lab, the chimpanzees were still cramped into small enclosures with no possibility to roam around or experience nature under the open sky.
Conditions were only slightly better at the Wildlife Waystation (pictured above) where Vanilla was moved to when she was two years old and joined a family still caged in an enclosure with a roof
When the refuge closed in 2019, she was yet again without a home, like 480 other animals – including 42 chimps – who lived there.
Another chimp family, called the Sunshine Seven, lived at the Wildlife Waystation with Vanilla and were brought to the Center for Great Apes after living in small enclosures, which the rescue showed by picturing the sad-looking primates inside the claustrophobia-inducing cages.
Aged two when she was moved from LEMSIP, she was among 30 chimpanzees sent to the Wildlife Waystation in California, and joined a small family group who stayed in an enclosure with a fenced roof (like the one pictured)
Rescuers scrambled to rehome all the primates, with Vanilla being among the final seven to be moved who stayed in the cages until they could fly across the country to their new home. The little family was named Sunrise Seven.
The chimpanzee and her family made the cross-country trip to Florida, where they had to quarantine before slowly being introduced into the larger family groups.
Now, Vanilla and her family finally have a three-acre island to explore and roam around as they please as part of the Save the Chimps sanctuary.
The 226 chimpanzees at the sanctuary came from laboratories, the entertainment industry, exotic pet trades or roadside zoos and most of them had to endure solitary confinement.