See the moment a 28-year-old lab chimp glimpses the open sky for the 1st time

A chimpanzee looking skyward
The blissful moment when Vanilla, a 28-year-old chimpanzee, sees the sky for the first time in her life. (Image credit: Courtesy Save the Chimps)

Vanilla, a 28-year-old chimpanzee, has lived her entire life in captivity without an unobscured view of the sky. But now, a heartwarming new video shows the great ape seeing the sky for the first time at an island chimp sanctuary in Florida.

For a portion of her early life, Vanilla lived inside a New York biomedical research facility, where she and dozens of other chimps (Pan troglodytes) were housed in small cages "suspended from the ground like bird cages," according to a statement from Save the Chimps, a sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, that rescued her and 29 of her peers.

After being removed from the New York facility in 1995, Vanilla and other captive chimps were shipped to the Wildlife Waystation, an animal rescue facility in California that shuttered in 2019, where she was boxed inside a roofed enclosure, cut off from the outside world, according to the Daily Mail.

"In California, Vanilla lived with a handful of chimps inside a chain-link-fence cage with no grass and very little enrichment," Andrew Halloran, a primatologist and director of Save the Chimps, told the New York Post

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After the Wildlife Waystation closed, Vanilla and members of her cohort came to Save the Chimps via a FedEx airplane that's part of FedEx Cares, a global community engagement program, before arriving to the organization's sanctuary in a semi-truck. 

After spending time in quarantine, a standard procedure at the sanctuary, the chimps were gradually introduced into one of the facility's larger family groups, according to a statement.

In the recently released video, Vanilla, at first hesitant, can be seen leaping out of a doorway and embraced by Dwight, a male chimp. Throughout the clip, she repeatedly looks skyward as she explores her new grassy, open-air habitat on the 3-acre (1.2 hectares) island.

"Shake [another rescued chimp] went out onto the island without hesitation, but Vanilla was a bit more apprehensive when the door opened to this new world," Save the Chimps representatives wrote in the statement. "She sat in the doorway until Dwight, the alpha male, encouraged her to join him."

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.