Linda Koebner was a 23 year-old graduate student when she was asked to work on an exciting new project. Some chimpanzees that had spent their entire lives in a laboratory were no longer needed. The question now was whether they’d be able to live normal lives outside the lab.
When it was time for the former laboratory inmates to be released, they were too frightened to come out of their transfer containers. They had never seen sunlight before and had never walked on grass. It took some coaxing, but eventually they came out and began their new lives. Linda spent four years working with the chimps to help them adjust to their new world. “These chimpanzees have taught me about resilience. All of these have gone through such tremendous adversity and yet they’re forgiving and they’re whole again.”
18 years later, Linda went to the Lion Country animal refuge in Florida. There were about 30 chimpanzees living there, among them Doll and Swing, two of the chimpanzees Linda had helped all those years before. No one had any idea how they would react to seeing Linda after so much time had gone by. They still remembered her and were overjoyed to see her again. It was a highly emotional scene: tears were shed and there were hugs all around.
Linda is still working to help chimpanzees. “My dream is to replicate even on a grander scale what we were able to do for the chimps that came to Lion Country with us. I just hope that this is a model and that we can give them the respect and the freedom to live out their lives at least together. It’s important not just for me but for all of us as a species to realize that all animals are individuals and they have feelings and thoughts and they suffer the pain, and the joy, that we do.”
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