A young graduate student helped released lab chimpanzees acclimate to life in the wild. 18 years later, they share a touching reunion.
In 1974, behavioral researcher Linda Koebner was only 23 years old when she was asked to participate in an ambitious new project. Little did she know, that what she would experience would have such an impact on her life.
An amazing project
Chimpanzees from labs were being slowly released back into the wild during that time, and among these “surplus animals” were the chimpanzees Doll and Swing. Linda Koebner was tasked with acclimating three of the chimps to their new home in the wild.
It wasn’t easy at first. For over six years, the chimps had not known anything except the laboratories where they were raised and kept in. It was a struggle to even coax them out of the cages they were transported in.
Linda recounts on Wisdom of the Wild, a 1999 documentary by Argos Films on the study:
“They were terrified. Whether it was afraid to step on the grass, they hadn’t been on anything except hard bars for years; or just the feel of the wind or the sun; they just huddled in the doorways and wouldn’t come out.”
A sad goodbye
However, with time and Linda’s unwavering dedication, she would eventually get them to embrace their new life. Doll, Swing, and another chimp named Sparky were finally free to be their natural selves for the first time since their infancy.
Linda would eventually move on, having done all she could have for the chimps. After caring for them every day for four long years, Linda tearfully says farewell to the Doll and Swing.
18 years passed and through Argos Films’ Wisdom of the Wild once again we see an older Linda, Doll, and Swing find their way back to each other.
Linda calls from across the pond to her old friends. For a moment the scene is tense. The chimps are curious but don’t fully recognize what is going on or who that stranger on the boat even is.
As the camera cuts back to Linda Koebner, it is evident that she isn’t worried. That or she’s just happy to see her old friends again. As the boat docks on the makeshift port, she finds out that the feeling is mutual.
Swing is the first to meet her and extends an arm to greet her as she beams an excited smile. Almost immediately Doll is right there beside them, and the three share their first hug in 18 years.
“These Chimpanzees have taught me so much about resilience. (They’ve) gone through so much tremendous adversity and yet they’re forgiving and they’re whole again.” Linda remarks.
The result of their inspiration
Linda has continued her good work since then and founded Chimp Haven in 2004. Chimp Haven is a sanctuary devoted to taking care of “surplus” chimpanzees discarded from the research and entertainment industries. Today, Chimp Haven is the home of over 300 chimpanzees.
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