It is with heavy hearts that we share the sad news that Chimp Haven’s oldest resident, Sarah Anne, has passed, just shy of her 60th birthday. Sarah Anne came to Chimp Haven in 2006, and her intelligence, feisty attitude, and regal disposition quickly made her one of the most beloved personalities at the sanctuary.
Before coming to Chimp Haven, Sarah Anne was involved in one of the earliest nonhuman-ape language acquisition studies in which she learned to communicate through the use of symbolic tokens. She was featured in the book, “The Mind of an Ape,” and even has her own Wikipedia page.
Staff will remember Sarah Anne as the “epitome of a queen.” She was never without her favorite soft, cuddly blankets, which she carried with her wherever she went and often used to wrap herself up into a cozy “chimp burrito.”
In her honor, we asked staff members who worked closely with her to share their favorite memories of Sarah Anne.
Amy Fultz, Director of Behavior and Chimp Haven Founder
As a chimpanzee behaviorist, I read about Sarah in the book “The Mind of an Ape” long before I met her in person. She was something of a chimpanzee celebrity in the world of animal behavior. So, when I heard she would be coming to Chimp Haven and was chosen to accompany her on the journey, I felt honored – but not nearly as honored as I now feel, having had the chance to get to know Sarah and count her among my friends.
Sarah’s blanket nesting techniques are legendary at the sanctuary and I loved to see her wrapped up and snuggled in her nests. But as the person who introduces chimpanzees to others, my fondest memories of Sarah involve her meeting some of her favorite chimpanzee friends.
Sarah has known many chimpanzees through the years. She came to the sanctuary with some youngsters – Emma and Harper. She and Harper were particularly close; I remember them, sitting side-by-side on a blanket, thumbing through the pages of The Jungle Book as if they were on a picnic.
Sarah was typically friendly as she met new friends over the years. She was very patient, particularly with Henry, a former pet chimpanzee who didn’t know how to act around other chimpanzees. Sarah gently groomed Henry and calmed his anxiety when she first met him; she even “shared” a blanket with him – that is, she allowed him to have one!
Sarah also once lived with Grandma, an elderly female chimpanzee who loved large stuffed animals, particularly those that looked like gorillas or chimps. When their group would need to move from place to place, Sarah would wait for Grandma to gather her “babies” (some of which were larger than her) and wouldn’t move until Grandma was also ready to go.
During Sarah’s last days she lived with Juan. Many staff members believed they were life partners or soul mates – both being kind, but somewhat demanding – the elders of their chimp family.
Another favorite memory of Sarah is giving her as many organic roses as she wanted each February. She would take them so delicately and enjoy the smell of each one before delicately eating them.
It was a privilege to share time with Sarah, whether providing her with spoonfuls of hot chocolate one chilly winter, feeding her juicy grapes, bringing old human friends to visit her over the years, introducing her to new friends, or simply watching her soulful way of interacting with others, both people and chimpanzees.
She always made each of us feel special in very individual ways. When I said goodbye, I was crying. Sarah, in her calm way, reached out to reassure me that everything was okay. I will always treasure the times spent with Sarah, an incredible and insightful chimpanzee.
Katy Rushing, Veterinary Technican
Sarah Anne was the first chimp that made an impression on me when I started at Chimp Haven. She was so smart, sweet, and fun to interact with! She quickly became my favorite because of her sass and personality. Sarah could definitely be demanding but I lived to serve and she was all about that! Every time I got to see her it brightened my day. It meant so much to me when she eventually became excited to see me each day also! She loved anything pink, blankies, and loved having her juice from a tea set; she was a proper lady! She was very good socially with other chimps but also loved the company of her favorite humans.
About a year ago we introduced a younger female chimp, Marie, to Sarah’s group. Marie knew instantly that Sarah was her new best friend; Sarah was less convinced. Marie did not give up though; she followed Sarah everywhere and made sure she did everything Sarah did. Marie was an excellent friend and eventually won Sarah Anne’s heart. They ate, slept, groomed, and even played together. It was so special to see Sarah Anne have such a devoted friend and to see the care that they each had for each other. I truly think Marie enriched Sarah’s last year of life more than anyone else ever could have.
Sarah Anne was the first chimp that made me fall in love with working with chimpanzees. She would greet you with pants and sweet, deep hoots. She is so special to me and so many others that no words can truly explain just how wonderful she was. She will be loved, missed deeply, and remembered for how many lives she impacted for the better.
Dr. Raven Jackson-Jewett, Attending Veterinarian
Many that work alongside me know that I tend to grow fond of our chimpanzee residents – both male and female – who are strong and protective. Sarah Anne was starkly different from those who typically steal my heart.
She was a demure female who performed everything from acceptance of medications to preparing her blankets/bedding for rest with grace and class. She became special to me because she readily exhibited her gratitude through head nods and grunts every time I visited or performed a service for her.
On a more personal note, Sarah Anne, being the true lady that she was, loved diamonds. Unbeknownst to me, several years ago my now-husband worked with Chimp Haven staff to coordinate his marriage proposal. Knowing how near and dear the chimpanzees are to me, he wanted to include them in our special day. After receiving my ring I immediately went to Sarah Anne to show off my new diamond. She was overjoyed and gave her stamp of approval.
More recently, due to her advanced kidney disease she required medical intervention, which warranted hands-on care. While feeding her, she casually reached for my gloved hand and I realized she wanted to see my diamond. I quickly gave her a glimpse, and she quickly showed her satisfaction.
Even though, as a medical professional, we understand end-of-life decisions as an extension of love and care, and prevention of pain and suffering, making the call is NEVER easy. I had been out of the office for over a month on bereavement and medical leave, but came in early to say my goodbyes to our loving Sarah Anne. There were several other staff visiting with her as I walked to the door to gain entry. She noticed me through the door window before I could enter and was working to sit up and actively head bobbing and grunting as I finally approached her. Despite her failing health, she gave me a valiant welcome back that warmed my heart.
Having recently celebrated a wedding anniversary, I had a new addition (a diamond infinity band) to the ring she always admired. I quickly altered my gloved hand to reveal my new diamonds, and in true Sarah Anne character, she exclaimed her approval.
We care for a number of chimpanzees on a daily basis, and we aren’t often thanked by the furry friends that we devotedly serve. But Sarah Anne was different – a special girl who made sure to express her appreciation in ways that we could understand, whether endearing eye contact, head bobs, or vocalizations. That caring nature was just who Sarah Anne was.
Even in her final day, as staff came by to say their goodbyes, she patted at the mesh to those who were shedding tears, as if to say, “It’s ok, I’m ok.” Sarah Anne is a true testament to our Chimp Haven mission, the dedication of our staff, and the rewards of providing lifelong care to chimpanzees.
Michelle Reininger, Colony Director
One of my favorite stories of Sarah Anne involves a day I was asked for a special painting from one of the chimps in Sarah Anne’s group. I walked over to visit with the group and see who might be interested, and Sarah Anne came forward. She looked over everything in my hands as I took a seat and laid the paints out beside me. Then, she sat down and waited patiently for me to give her the necessary tools to create a masterpiece.
Sarah Anne painted in a very precise manner. She knew exactly what color should go where and how it should look. I was amazed by the care she took, even waving an arm at Henry, when he started to display, as if to say, “Hey! I’m working here!”
When she’d finished her painting, she very carefully handed me the canvas through the small opening at the bottom of the mesh. I looked at it and told her how wonderful it was, but she was no longer looking at the art she’d created. I noticed that her focus was now on something else – me. In fact, she was staring, very pointedly, at my gloved hands. Unsure what was causing her to stare at them so, I held them up in front of me, palms facing toward me.
Immediately, Sarah shoved her paintbrush through the mesh. With great precision, she applied paint to the tips of my gloves – right where my fingernails were. I held perfectly still, as she proceeded to paint each of my ten fingernails with the skills of a manicurist. Only when all 10 were painted a lovely shade of pink was she satisfied. Once complete, she turned her brush around and put the handle through the mesh for me to take. With her work complete, she turned away and climbed up to the top of a structure with a blanket. The tired artist created a quick nest and then laid down for a well-earned nap!
All of us at Chimp Haven are so grateful to have had 13 years with Sarah Anne, in which we got to be part of her extraordinary life. Thank you to everyone who loved and supported her. She will be dearly missed.