Animal Sanctuaries

AV magazine issue 3, 2010 2010 Issue #3 & 4 A Place to Call Home First Look At Freedom
Lynn Cuny

Good sanctuaries strive to afford animals released from labs freedom, enrichment, and protection from harm. The following article, describes the arrival of several female rhesus macaques at their new sanctuary home.

Several years ago, Wildlife Rescue received a request that we could not refuse, despite the difficulties involved. Twenty-three rhesus macaque monkeys in a midwestern lab were either going to be retired to a sanctuary or put to death, and the lab demanded an immediate decision as to whether we would take them. The image of 23 mostly elderly, female primates, who had lived all their days isolated in small lab cages, enduring heaven knows what, and now facing imminent death, was not an easy one to shut out. It was not a good time for us to take additional animals, but the image of these old girls would not go away. We said yes.

Where would we house them? These girls had never been together in the lab, their lives had been years of solitude: no touch except when they were being taken from their cages for an experiment, no time or opportunity to establish solid relationships with other monkeys. We devised a plan for temporary housing that would allow us to slowly introduce the girls to one another and at the same time have them outdoors, unlike their 20-plus years of life in a lab's basement. Construction began on a one acre enclosure in a natural setting, with an abundance of live oaks for their climbing pleasure.

In only a matter of days, the 23 rhesus girls were here. They arrived late one evening, and early the next morning, WRR staff was ready to move them into their temporary home. It was obvious by their behavior that these girls had been isolated long enough. So, instead of placing them alone and giving them time to get acquainted, we took the chance that they knew better than we did, and placed the girls in three groups. None of us can begin to imagine what over 20 years of solitary confinement is like. We cannot imagine being deprived of the touch of our own kind or what it is like to live deprived of a visit into the outside world of fresh air and warm sunshine. Until now, this was the life for these endearing female monkeys.

As they emerged from their carriers, some were cautious, and others darted out anxious to see what new sights surrounded them. But one emotion was common in each pair of curious, frightened eyes: each girl knew that her life was now quite different, that perhaps this was not a place to be afraid of, that a profound change had taken place, that something here was very different.

How long had it been since their acute sense of smell detected something other than an antiseptic kind of clean? How far back did their memories have to reach to recall the sound of birds singing in the trees? Did each of them instantly recognize the soft feel of a warm summer wind as it caressed their tattooed faces?

As they looked around them, all the girls could see were oak trees and acres of green grass punctuated by rocks and bushes. Grasshoppers and cicadas chirped and called, axis deer meandered past, sniffed at the new monkeys, and moved on. Resident cows and sheep dropped by to see who was occupying the new enclosures. All of these new sights, sounds, animals, and sensations are now part of their world. But most important was the newness of having another monkey to touch, groom, sometimes chase and fuss with, sit and sleep next to, be comforted by, reassure, and finally, after years of solitude, to share a day and a night with.


Lynn Cuny is the Founder and CEO of Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation. Located in Kendalia, Texas, WRR provides permanent homes for over 600 animals rescued from research labs and other abusive situations. To learn more, visit www.wildlife-rescue.org.

Read more from this issue of the AV Magazine
Ending the Use of Animals in Science