It’s with heavy hearts that we share news of the passing of Juan, one of the very first chimps to retire to Chimp Haven when the sanctuary opened in 2005. We are so thankful Juan was able to spend more than 17 years at Chimp Haven, where he won the hearts of humans and chimps alike. He will be dearly missed at Chimp Haven, and by all who knew and loved him over the years.
by Ellen Brady-McGaughey, Animal Care Coordinator
Juan was a favorite to pretty much everyone who ever met him, and was most new interns’ and new employees’ very first chimp friend when beginning work at Chimp Haven. It was common for us to take new hires or interns to play with him first when training them on how to properly (and safely) play with a chimp. Even before you knew how to really interact and engage with chimps, he was patient with you and would guide your spoon to where he wanted you to tickle him. It didn’t matter if he just met you or knew you for years, all were welcomed friends to Juan. Some chimps can be a little standoffish at first, and you have to work to earn the honor of playing with them, but Juan was happy to be a friend to all, no matter how awkward you were trying to “speak chimp” and play with him. We always said you can’t work at Chimp Haven if Juan doesn’t like you, because he liked everyone.
He was a kind friend to the other chimps in his group as well, and often accompanied sick or injured group mates when they needed time away from the rest of the group. He stayed with Sarah Anne on several occasions towards the end of her life, and kept her company while she was away from the rest of her group mates.
Juan loved many things, including people, hats, his meds, chow, and hair. You always knew when vet staff had entered his area with his meds, because you could hear his excitement about it from a distance! One of my favorite memories with Juan (and there are many), was playing with him one afternoon, when I found one of my hairs on my shirt and carefully gave it to him. He was fascinated (as always), and thoroughly inspected it. After this, he looked down at his arm for a second, then carefully grasped something between his fingers, picked it up, and started to push it through the mesh to me. It was one of his hairs, and he was trying to give it to me. It was so sweet that he gave me one of his hairs, since he treasured hair so much. I inspected it much like he always did, and he watched intently.
There are many more stories of countless, treasured play sessions with our Juan-ton. Juan was a great chimp friend to go to when you were having a bad day, as he was always happy to see you, and happy to play. He was a bright spot in every day at work, no matter how crummy the rest of the day had been. Juan was a huge part of Chimp Haven, and a larger than life personality. He will always be loved and remembered fondly by those that were lucky enough to know him. The sanctuary is quieter without his excited grunts greeting everyone that comes to see him, and his sweet laugh when you tickled him in just the right spot. It was impossible to imagine a world without Juan, and we are now having to navigate that reality. He is dearly missed and loved.