The Chimpanzee Chronicles: Stories of Heartbreak and Hope

This unique collection of 25 stories charts a path for compassionate change.

Posted May 11, 2020

"Before these magnificent beings are gone forever, they need us to imagine a world in which their autonomy is respected and protected so they may live freely, with peace and dignity. This remarkable book will certainly help us get there." —Steven M. Wise

"Debra Rosenman has gathered up real life stories that will, collectively, sadden, anger, and inspire all who read them … Thank goodness for the dedicated, passionate, and often very courageous people whose work is recognized in this important book, one that will, I am sure, inspire all who read it to do their bit to improve the lives of the animals with whom we share, or should share, our planet. On behalf of the chimpanzees whose lives they changed, I thank and honor them." —Jane Goodall

Captive chimpanzees are on the threshold of legally becoming persons. This new status will be a game-changer for them. When their day in court arrives, chimpanzees will have legal rights to bodily liberty and ethical considerations that will hopefully ensure them safety and peace in a bona fide primate sanctuary, free from physical, emotional, and psychological harm. The abuses inflicted on these deeply feeling, cognitively evolved sentient beings for many decades in biomedical research laboratories, in zoos, and entertainment arenas are appalling. I’m astounded that it has taken so much work, and so long, to free captive chimpanzees from their pain and suffering. The lack of respect with which they are treated in the name of “science” and “entertainment” is indefensible.

A new book called The Chimpanzee Chronicles: Stories of Heartbreak and Hope from Behind the Bars edited by Debra Rosenman is an extremely important book that reveals many facets of the world of captive chimpanzees and the incredibly dedicated people who selflessly care for them. The story behind the book can be seen here.1 I was honored to write the foreword. Perfectly poised to have compiled such a collection, Debra has spent more than a decade advocating for captive chimpanzees. She has written and published articles about their plight and is the developer of an elementary school program—Voices For Wild Souls—that helps children bridge a compassionate world among different species so that they and others can more effectively close the "empathy gap" that currently exists. 

The Chimpanzee Chronicles will receive a gold medal for best anthology at the 2020 Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY awards). The accolades for this unique, powerful, and agenda-setting collection are uniformly extremely positive, and the stories assembled, each an emotionally penetrating thread of insight and compassion, invite us to reflect on our relationship with these intelligent and sensitive beings. You can meet the chimpanzees here.

 Debra Rosenman, used with permission
Burrito, born into the world of biomedical research, personifies the transformative journey from captivity to sanctuary. He currently lives at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. (His story is in note 2.)
Source: Debra Rosenman, used with permission

For The Chimpanzee Chronicles, Debra set her sights on twenty-five contributors’ firsthand experiences that reflect the capacity chimpanzees have to feel and to express a wide variety of emotions. In this landmark book, you will experience close up how chimpanzees perceive their world through self-awareness, empathy, and joy, as well as how they cope with depression, isolation, and fear. You will come to know chimpanzees who understand illness and death and grieve for the loss of loved ones. You will even find out what chimpanzees communicating through American Sign Language (ASL) have to say to each other and to us. The narratives, from around the world, are eye-opening in their honesty, inspiring rage, deep compassion, and ultimately hope. Reading them makes it impossible to reject the book’s foundational message that chimpanzees care about what happens to them, their families, and their friends—that they rejoice when “good” things occur and suffer when experiencing themselves or others treated as disposable objects.

Every story in this book is a gem. I was particularly moved by Gloria Grow’s chronicle of Jeannie and all she endured as a medical research subject, including an emotional collapse before leaving the lab and embarking on a trajectory of love and healing. I was heartbroken to find out what Bruno, imprisoned at the same lab, asked contributor Mark Bodamer as they communicated in ASL, an appeal Debra first learned of when she met Mark in 2007 and that now rocks my own heart and soul.

I also loved Patti Ragan’s story about Knuckles, a chimpanzee with cerebral palsy, who, despite playing a bit rough when first introduced to a new group of chimpanzees, was welcomed; they instinctively knew he was different and treated him tenderly. And I will long remember Rosa Garriga’s narrative about Kouze, who caringly assisted chimps in need while the dominant male in the group threw stones at him. This shows the understanding, kindness, and empathy chimpanzees are capable of and how they will sometimes go to any length to help family and friends.

Some readers may criticize the stories for ascribing human attributes to the primates they profile. However, such a viewpoint—playing what I call the anthropomorphism card—is seriously outdated given all that we now know about the deep and rich emotional lives of a wide range of nonhuman species. It has been extensively documented that chimpanzees are fully feeling individuals who express the same broad spectrum of emotions as humans. Whether they are feeling happy, fearful, sad, or angry, they are always communicating their emotions through facial expressions, body language, and vocalizations.

When we attribute rich and deep emotional lives to other animals, we’re not inserting something human into them, as is sometimes—though today less often—claimed. Rather, we are applying Charles Darwin’s well-accepted arguments about what is called “evolutionary continuity,” the idea that differences among species are differences in degree rather than kind, and are measured in shades of gray rather than black and white. There is no reason to establish humans as a template against which other species are compared. In fact, large differences also exist among members of the same species. 

A person would have to be severely out of touch with chimpanzees and themselves to claim, as do a dwindling number of denialists, “We really don’t know what they are feeling,” or “They don’t really know what’s happening.” The important point is that other animals share with us many aspects of our emotional lives. It’s high time to recognize this well-established scientific fact and stop quibbling about whether chimpanzees really do feel contagious joy and happiness and deep heart-wrenching pain and suffering. There is no doubt they do and the denialists are simply wrong.

I hope the experiences recounted in this book “rewild” readers’ minds and hearts to appreciate chimpanzees and what they have lost in captivity. This book is a game-changer; it’s impossible to read these stories and not want to help current and future generations of captive chimpanzees who are dependent on us for their very lives. Let’s expand our circle of compassion and help these animals live as they were meant to live. We must do no less. If The Chimpanzee Chronicles doesn’t move readers toward some type of action, I’m not sure what will.



1) "From the shores of America to the forests of Africa, The Chimpanzee Chronicles: Stories of Heartbreak and Hope from Behind the Bars by longtime animal rights activist Debra Rosenman offers a glimpse into the world of captive chimpanzees who have been exploited as biomedical research subjects, entertainers, and pets. This anthology of twenty-five stories exposes the suffering they have endured; the healing many of them experienced once retired into sanctuary; and the life-changing transformations of the contributors themselves, each of whom was committed to a single mission—improving the lives of captive chimpanzees. Composed of firsthand accounts by primatologists, veterinarians, primate sanctuary founders and directors, a documentary filmmaker, and others, The Chimpanzee Chronicles ultimately charts a path for change while prompting readers to reenvision their relationship with these sentient beings and choose kindness and compassion toward all nonhuman animals." A portion of proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit chimpanzee conservation programs and sanctuaries. 

2) "Burrito is one of only two males of the ten chimpanzees who live at CSNW. Burrito was kept in a human home during his toddler years, was leased to an 'animal act' for two years, then returned to a laboratory where he was used in hepatitis vaccine research. Like most male chimpanzees, Burrito has quite an impressive 'display'—he stands up bipedally and makes himself look large, then finds something to bang on as he runs around. The female chimpanzees get out of his way when he is displaying, and seem to be taking him more seriously now that his displays are amplified in the larger space of the sanctuary. Burrito cannot get enough of all of the food at the sanctuary—he is excited about everything that is offered to him." (Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

For numerous essays about the emotional lives of a wide variety of nonhuman animal beings, click here

Bekoff, Marc. Jane Goodall Explains the Importance of Living in Harmony. 

_____. Research Chimpanzees Infected, Abandoned, Starved, and Rescued

_____. The Great Healing: 5 Compassions That Can Save the World.

_____. The World Becomes What We Teach

_____. The Grass Library Makes Us Think About Who Animals Truly Are

_____. The State of the Animals: The Good, Bad, Ugly, and Hope

_____. Why Do We Feel Compassion and Empathy For Specific Animals? 

_____. Anthropomorphism Favors Coexistence, Not Deadly Domination