Publications: Project R&R News

Update on the Chimpanzees Featured in PBS Documentary

October 1, 2007 • Posted in Project R&R News

The Project R&R Interview with Gloria Grow, Fauna Foundation Director and Project R&R Honorary Chair

R&R: Gloria can you give us an update on Tom, who ends the film with his strong, joyous climb up that marvelous big tree on his island?

Grow: The New York Times wrote: ‘The final scene shows Tom, after 30 years in a steel cage, exploring his new island habitat. He runs, he holds his head high and he purposefully, elegantly climbs a tree to survey the landscape. The dignity and elation are palpable. He might as well be a Shakespearean king.’ This really moved me because I don’t think anyone has captured Tom so totally before. He is a Shakespearean king…his quiet, gentle, thoughtful nature. He has been going out regularly and you really get to see who he is. Not behind bars, but outside in the open air you can see his magnitude. Who he would have been in the wild. Majestic. It’s like meeting a whole new Tom. It makes me fall in love with him again. He is like a whole new guy and the closest he will get to being a real chimp…or a Shakespearean king, which is certainly a gift for all of us.

R&R: We shared Fauna’s grief when Billy Jo died so suddenly. We know how much everyone there misses him everyday. He was such an incredible presence. Seeing him again in the film—out on the island for his first time—is a privilege. He is immortalized in this film. What was it like to visit him again in the poignant footage in the film?

Grow: We see how amazing the chimps are everyday. How much we share with them. For Billy Jo who crossed the chimp and human world boundaries and ended up confused about who he was, it was always especially painful with Billy. Watching him not know who he really was. Out there on the island, not behind bars, he was filled up with who he was…relatively free for the first time again in decades. But for Billy even that wasn’t going to be enough. Though I miss him from the bottom of my heart…I don’t miss seeing him behind bars. Wanting to be out of there. Looking to the chimps and to the humans who loved him—caught in between those two worlds. I don’t miss any of that. And knowing that where he is now has no bars, and is absolute freedom for him, gives me comfort—even if I miss being with him everyday, it was too high a price for him to pay.

R&R: Gloria, we know how much you and the other two sanctuaries work together and that given your smaller number of chimpanzee residents, you are able to occasionally get away and visit Dr. Noon and Patti Ragan. Can you give us an update on Ron and Thoto at Save the Chimps and Toddy at the Center for Great Apes?

Grow: I visited Save the Chimps in Florida, last winter, with Dr. Capaldo, at a time when several more chimps were to arrive from Alamogordo. Many of them were friends of Ron’s and Thoto’s. Ron goes out on the island. Thoto continues to go eagerly…and it is a challenge to get him back in. So both of them are certainly making the most of their new home. Dr. Noon gives them meticulous care….they could not be in better hands. During that same week, we visited Patti’s and were, and always are delighted to see Toddy. She is one of my very good chimpanzee friends. She is sweet, precious and an amazing little lady. She is content, eager to greet you—very welcoming. A very gracious and forgiving individual.

R&R: As a final question, is there anything else you would like to tell us about some of the other chimps that appeared in the film—in particular, those from Fauna?

Grow: Sue Ellen, who appeared with Billy Jo and in several other screens—she is the little old lady with the very, very sweet face and the string of beads—angelic looking, with soft, curious eyes. It wasn’t noted in the film but she is losing her sight and so we were all amazed when she bravely went out on the island the first time her door was opened. She loves to spend her days out there with Pepper—who you see grooming my hair (or rather making a mess of my coif!). They are the best of friends. Pepper watches out for her…and we let them stay out for as long as they want. Pepper has taken full advantage of the vegetable gardens we have planted for them on the islands. You will always see her picking one of her favorites off a vine or plant and then lazily enjoying it in the sun. All of the Fauna chimps have gone out on the island—except for Regis. He will just need more time.

More information
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Offsite links to visit
Fauna Foundation
Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History preview
More information on the film from NATURE
Behind the scenes with director Allison Argo


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