Stories of Chimpanzees

Stories of Chimpanzees

Butch & Chipper
Butch & Chipper

Butch Photo: © Center for Great Apes

Butch and Chipper have spent many years together, yet they are quite different.

Butch has a mostly toothless smile, a very long face, and a big round belly. He loves to eat, especially fruits, carrots, and collard greens. He loves to lazily groom himself while sitting happily in a mound of pine needles in the sun. He has adjusted to life in sanctuary, but his transition is not trouble free. After spending years in a small cage, he had some difficulty walking and would “scoot” everywhere when he first arrived. Butch still has “ghosts” and will frequently look back over his shoulder to see if someone is coming up behind him, even when no one is there.

Chipper is tall and slim and far more athletic. He easily climbs all the structures in his sanctuary home, exploring swings and vines, and readily reaches great heights in his domed enclosure. He is quite active and enjoys his enrichment toys, placing them carefully in the nests he builds each day. Chipper is known to “gallop at top speeds” through the overhead chutes under the canopy of trees trying to engage you in a game of chase.

These inseparable friends permanently reside at the Center for Great Apes in Florida.

Photo: © Center for Great Apes

A long and winding road

Butch and Chipper traveled a long and winding road—from their birthplace in Africa, to a circus in the U.S., to a lab in New Mexico, and to a zoo in Florida. They had only one more stop after that—arriving at sanctuary. Although their rescue by the Center for Great Apes does not make up for the suffering they endured along the way, it provides something of a happy ending.

Butch and Chipper’s journey began in Africa where they were born in the wild and captured as infants in 1973 and 1974, respectively. They were shipped to the U.S. and sold to a circus trainer. They spent more than 10 years performing for Ringling Bros. Life in the circus is no place for animals. Chimpanzees in circus acts are forced to perform in ways that are unnatural to them—Butch drove a motorcycle. Traditionally, the methods used to make these strong primates “perform” have often been abusive or threatening—most of Butch’s teeth were pulled so that he could not bite.

In their book Visions of Caliban, Jane Goodall and Dale Peterson wrote about Butch, Chipper, and the two other chimpanzees with whom they performed in their circus act, noting that their trainer was said to club his apes. The book quotes another Ringling trainer who witnessed the chimpanzees’ training:

They were on a long, multi-seated bicycle on which three of the large chimps rode as passengers while the largest chimp, Louie, steered and pedaled. The vehicle was difficult for even a human to ride under those conditions, and Louie had a hard time of it, spilling the ensemble repeatedly. And, repeatedly, he was struck with a sturdy club. The thumps could be heard outside the arena building, and the screams went farther than that. My blood boiled. I’m ashamed to say I did nothing!

—Dale Peterson & Jane Goodall, Visions of Caliban
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1993. pp. 150-51

When their circus trainer died suddenly, Butch and Chipper were on the road again, and were sent by the trainer’s widow to a biomedical research facility, White Sands Research Center in New Mexico, owned by the Coulston Foundation, a notorious breeding and research facility that was eventually closed.

However, in less than a year, animal welfare organizations secured their release from the lab, and Butch and Chipper were sent to a small roadside zoo in Florida.

While in the roadside zoo, Chipper gained notoriety on television when he and another chimpanzee escaped, and sat on the Interstate enjoying a stolen gallon of honey. Butch and Chipper spent 13 years in that Florida zoo before wildlife authorities shut it down.

It was then, in Fall 2000, that Butch and Chipper reached their final destination: the Center for Great Ape’s sanctuary in Florida. They now live in a 30-foot-tall habitat, and are free to spend days lazing in the sun, roaming through the woods in overhead chutes, or simply being with each other.

The road was a long and hard one—fortunately they had each other along the way.


Butch and Chipper’s story is based on information supplied by the Center for Great Apes.

NEAVS Brochure, From Stage to Lab Cage  ebree

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