Chimp Haven’s oldest resident, Sarah Anne, just got a little bit older. Because she was born in the wild we do not know her exact birthdate, but we can estimate that she was born around August of 1959, making her 57 years old. The average lifespan of a chimpanzee is generally between 30 and 40 years, so Sarah Anne’s age is quite significant. However, some captive chimpanzees have lived beyond 60. Regardless, we want to honor Sarah Anne and her extraordinary life by making her the subject of our first blog post!

Sarah Anne was captured as an infant and brought to the United States for research. As an adolescent she became the subject of one of the earliest nonhuman-ape language studies. Here, she proved herself capable of forming grammatical phrases using symbolic tokens. Sarah’s acquired skills were documented in the book The Mind of an Ape by David Premack and Ann James Premack. All of this has even earned Sarah her very own Wikipedia page.

Sarah Anne lived with the Premack’s in their home until 1987 when she moved to Ohio State University.  In 2006, Sarah Anne was sent to Primarily Primates in San Antonio where she stayed for several months. At the end of ’06, she was permanently retired to Chimp Haven, along with 6 other chimpanzees from a cognitive research background.


Sarah Anne’s life is now quite different.  She’s still a slender beauty with a wise gaze and today she has ample opportunities to display species typical behaviors such as nesting, tool usage, and grooming in a spacious environment. One of Sarah’s favorite activities is nesting with blankets.  Blankets have become something of Sarah Anne’s trademark because she is rarely seen without one, even in the summer.

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Her love of blankets is one thing, but her most striking characteristic is her intelligence, which has helped her excel in Chimp Haven’s positive reinforcement training program.  This program is designed to teach the chimpanzees to present different body parts for examination, thus eliminating the need to sedate a chimp to treat minor wounds or ailments. Positive reinforcement training is an optional activity for the chimps: it’s up to them whether or not they participate. Many choose to train though, because when the chimp presents the correct body part he or she is rewarded with a sip of juice or a small piece of fruit. One of the surest ways to win over Sarah Anne’s affection is by offering her juice, blueberries, or grapes.

Not only does Sarah Anne do well at training, but she seems to really enjoy her sessions. She lets her trainer know that she is excited to learn by releasing a hearty pant hoot. Sarah Anne picks up on new cues quickly and is always eager to demonstrate her knowledge. Currently, she is learning to stick her arm into a “blood sleeve,” a special device that would allow veterinarians to safely take blood samples from chimps if they were to become ill.

Because Sarah Anne is an especially intelligent animal, as are all chimpanzees, she requires daily enrichment to stimulate her complex mind. Painting is one of her favorite ways to pass time. She shows great interest in painting, meticulously placing the brush on different parts of the canvas until she deems her masterpiece complete.

Sarah Anne also enjoys flipping through books.

Sarah Anne also enjoys flipping through books.

Sarah Anne generally possesses a pleasant demeanor and cooperates with caregivers.  She sets herself apart from her rowdier groupmates by staying out of arguments. But that doesn’t mean she’s void of the desire to play pranks on staff! Sometimes she will block doorways within enclosures making it impossible for caregivers to close them (which they need to do in order to safely access certain areas for cleaning), much to her own amusement. She’ll also trick caregivers into sneaking her another treat by stealing an item from them and not returning it until she is rewarded with a tasty morsel of fruit. Sarah Anne sure knows how to use her cunning ways to get what she wants! Sarah’s trainer says it seems like Sarah is always thinking and calculating her next move.

But after all is said and done, Sarah Anne is similar to many elderly chimpanzees. She passes time relaxing and observing her surroundings. Much of her retirement is spent lying in a hammock or at the top of a structure where she can watch the hustle and bustle of the hardworking caregivers, as well as other chimpanzees.

We’re a fortunate and thankful group of people for having this audacious chimpanzee with us today and hopefully for years to come. Here, Sarah has the freedom to choose how she spends her days, and that’s how it should be.

You can wish Sarah Anne a happy birthday and help provide lifetime care for her, and other chimps, by Becoming her Best Friend today.

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