Once upon a time, there was a baby chimpanzee who was taken from his mother and raised by a scientist. His mother’s pregnancy wasn’t planned and the little guy needed surgery to attempt to stop the seizures he was experiencing.
The chimp was raised in a home by a scientist until he became too violent, crashing through windows.He was sent to a primate center. This isn’t “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and the chimp wasn’t a CGI-enhanced actor.
The chimp was named Booie. He was born in 1967 at the National Institutes of Health research facility in Maryland. He was adopted by Dr. Schneider. In 1970, he was sent to the Institute of Primate Studies in Norman, Oklahoma where he lived in a cage. There he learned American Sign Language as part of the family grouping of Washoe under Dr. Roger Fouts.
In 1982, Booie along with Nim was sent to the NYU LEMSIP. While the more famous Nim was saved and sent to the Black Beauty Ranch the same year, Booie wasn’t saved until 1995 when ABC’s 20/20 program showed a sad Booie greeting and remembering his old friend Dr. Fouts. He had an incurable disease by that time (hepatitis C).
Nim died in 2000 of heart failure, but Booie lives on and not so far from the Pasadena area.
According to Martine Colette, current director of the Wildlife Waystation in Angeles Forest, the movie “Project Nim” made her sad for the animals, but in a recent telephone interview, she recalled how James Mahoney of the NYU School of Medicine called her and “asked me if I was in a position to take some chimpanzees and give them sanctuary.” At the time Colette wasn’t aware that one of the chimps could sign and was a bit of a celebrity.
Although Booie is the only signing chimp currently at the Waystation, he’s not the only one who began as a pet. “They live 50-65 years but their lives in human household is only the first 4-5. They miss everything a chimp child learns: how to be a successful chimpanzee–chimp politics and behavior. It makes it difficult for them when they have to be placed in groups.”
Colette commented that people “mistake love for possession: they have to own it to love it. If people truly loved them, they’d save their habitats, support their local parks and zoological societies, but you cannot stop people from having exotic animals.”
As in the case of Caesar, biomedical research does continue to use chimpanzees in the United States. Other countries have banned to use of chimpanzees in invasive research.
What happens when an exotic pet is too difficult or dangerous to keep at home or when they are no longer needed for medical research? Wildlife Waystation isn’t the only place where these chimps and other great apes are sent to, but once there, universities, organizations and individuals who once kept them at great expense do not often continue to provide funds for their care.