The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery
“Dr. Westoll’s narrative encourages the reader to live more humanely— because, ultimately, the values of humanity are expressed in the way that animals are treated.”
In 1997, Gloria Grow, undertook a Herculean task. She and Richard Allan opened their hearts and their Quebecian hobby farm as a fauna sanctuary for chimpanzees retiring from laboratory settings. The story of the Fauna Sanctuary—its chimps, its staff, and its ultimate and heart-rending successes—yields this collection of vignettes that tugs at the reader’s pathos from the get-go.
Dr. Andrew Westoll, himself a former field primatologist easily situates himself as a guide and storyteller, relating the chimps’ stories as the animals move from their hellish laboratory settings into a retirement. The image of Virgil navigating the Dante through the Inferno never seemed so apropos as Dr. Westoll walks the reader through the pride, greed, and sheer inhumanity of the treatment of chimpanzees.
Before the reader can understand the significance of Gloria and Richard’s work at the Fauna Sanctuary, Dr. Westoll begins his narrative with snippets of the chimps’ lives as they live now at the Sanctuary and describes the life of research that brought them their current. Dr. Westoll describes the chimp serving in popular thought as an “Other” throughout Western history—as a foil or counter. He describes the hundreds of years chimps have been misunderstood and misinterpreted—cast as simply dark Calibans, grasping toward some civilizing light.
Dr. Westoll brilliantly counters this fallacy through his use of stories, anecdotes, and personalities, showing chimps to exist as independently complex organisms. Dr. Westoll describes the chimp serving in popular thought as an “Other” throughout Western history—as a foil or counter. He describes the hundreds of years chimps have been misunderstood and misinterpreted, cast as simply dark Calibans, grasping toward some civilizing light. Dr. Westoll brilliantly counters this fallacy through his use of stories, anecdotes, and personalities—showing chimps to exist as independently complex organisms.
Dr. Westoll describes each chimp’s biography as a member of the biomedical community and life under horrific laboratory research conditions—all justified and conducted under the premises that chimps were assumed to the model organism for research. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, chimpanzees have been used for research of infectious diseases, space exploration, organ transplants, and a host of other experimental procedures.
Decades of laboratory life and confinement take their toll on chimpanzee physical and psychological health, and the life histories of the chimpanzees vividly illustrate those scars. Chimpanzees, it was argued within the laboratory culture, ought to be the perfect model organism for scientific research and to have been the best corollary to humans, simply by proxy of their close-relatedness within the hominoid lineage.
However, from the beginning of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, Dr. Westoll asks the reader to question the premise of what it means to be a model organism for research. He explains that research, for decades, had justified the means of research as its end: with the need for “betterment” within human society and health far outweighing the “cost” of it to other animal communities.
Dr. Westoll makes an interesting argument that the reason that chimps were seen to be model organism was, in part, due to the easy anthropomorphism. Chimps have distinct personalities, traits, and foibles. This very thing that makes them “accessible” to human researchers also becomes a liability in their research. Many studies have concluded that chimps do not make a model organism and that they are simply too complex.
Dr. Westoll builds his case by weaving together interviews, research papers, as well as his extensive interviews and personal experience. There is little doubt left in the reader’s mind, by the end of Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary that Gloria and Richard’s work is long overdue and the reader is emotionally exhausted by the end of the book.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is hard emotional read as the reader is forced to make sense of the harsh, complex, and often cruel world that the chimpanzees come from when the arrive at Gloria’s Sanctuary. The reader is left feeling that Dr. Westoll has indeed shown them the Ninth Circle of laboratory research after showing the reader the greed, pride, and gluttony within scientific communities, but also the hope and promise of a better humanity through work such as Gloria and Richard’s.
Dr. Westoll’s narrative encourages the reader to live more humanely—because, ultimately, the values of humanity are expressed in the way that animals are treated.