Chimpanzee Cecilia back to nature in Brazil after misery of a jail-like zoo

Posted in 15/04/2017

Cecilia (EFE/Fernando Bizerra Jr.)

efe-epa / By Carlos Meneses Sanchez Sao Paulo

The chimpanzee Cecilia never knew what it was like to put her feet on the grass, she only knew the cement floor of the Argentine zoo where she was born 20 years ago. Today she breathes the fresh air of a Brazilian sanctuary surrounded by others of her species and where nature replaces the horrors she suffered in the past.

After her first week at the Sorocaba Natural Sanctuary in Sao Paulo state, Cecilia has become active and curious in her new home, though she still keeps her distance from the veterinarians who closely analyze her behavior as she completes her quarantine period.

“She’s still very distrustful,” said the Cuban Pedro Alejandro Ynterian, owner of the refuge that shelters another 50 chimpanzees along with other animals, all rescued from circuses or unhealthy zoos.

For a second, Cecilia came out of her room to see who was there. She moved freely through her two modules and looked out the windows, as if she didn’t really believe where she was.

“She has a great ability to adapt and she really wants to, but she’s still really afraid of returning to the hell where she was living. When she hears an engine or some truck, she hides” because she thinks they’re going to take her back, Ynterian said.

In the 20 years of her life, Cecilia was displayed in a cubicle at a zoo in Mendoza, Argentina, which was closed to the public last year after a series of animal deaths.

Her confinement traumatized her and she got worse when some fellow chimps died that she had shared her life with, Camila Gentile, a veterinarian who has worked at the sanctuary for 12 years, told EFE.

“They’re like humans, they get depressed and those psychological traumas are much worse than physical ones, and Cecilia’s is psychological: the depression of living a long time alone…that’s harder to get over,” she said.

The treatment? In some cases they have to administer anti-depressants, but apparently Cecilia isn’t such an extreme case, and after the quarantine the idea will be to “find her some company.”

“We have experiences with other chimpanzees that arrived in very bad condition, very sad, but after adapting and getting a companion, they’re doing great,” Gentile said.

Cecilia’s arrival at this animal shelter wasn’t easy, but rather a legal odyssey that went on for two years, and in fact this is the first chimp in the world to be issued a habeas corpus to obtain its freedom.

The judge handling the case ruled in an unprecedented sentence that Cecilia has “non-human rights, cannot be enslaved for life, and has the right to live with her equals,” Ynterian recalled.