'The wheels were always turning' - Chimpanzee rescued from lab research dies at 51

Published on Friday, 13 December 2013 22:54 - Written by By Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

DSC_0096_37667_247369 Kitty, a chimpanzee at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch (CABBR) in Texas. Kitty was kept in a laboratory for most of her life and used to breed baby chimpanzees who would later be used in experiments. It's believed that Kitty was born in the wild but the records are unclear prior to age ten. What is known is that Kitty was used as a "breeder" in a laboratory and gave birth to as many as 14 babies. She was allowed to raise four of them but the others were taken from her. While the whereabouts of most of her children are not known, she is the mother of one famous chimpanzee, Dar es Salaam, who was raised by humans and used in sign language studies in the 1970s. Dar is now at the Chimpanzee and Human Communications Institute where he is not used in harmful research. Kitty was sent to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, a sanctuary operated by The Humane Society of the United States, in 1997 to be a companion for Nim Chimpsky, another famous chimpanzee used in sign language studies. A book was recently written by Elizabeth Hess about his life called Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human. Kitty and Nim were joined by two other chimpanzees from laboratories shortly after Kitty arrived. Sadly, Nim died in 2000 of heart complications. However, Kitty and her two other companions, Lulu and Midge, continue to enjoy their lives in the sanctuary to this day.
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Kitty the chimpanzee will not only be remembered for her nurturing ways but also for her life journey.

The 51-year-old, who died of natural causes Dec. 6, was born in the African wild, and at 10 years old, was transported to the U.S. to be a breeder for research, said Ben Callison, director of the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

While in the research lab, Kitty gave birth to 14 babies, including two sets of twins. Callison said 12 of her children were taken away from her at birth for research purposes. In 1997, she arrived at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, a sanctuary in Murchison.

Callison said her experiences with humans up until then had not been great, so she had trust issues.

“Her level of distrust was huge. Of all the chimps, she took the longest to ever trust somebody,” he said. “For Kitty to love you and trust you meant she had to overcome so many bad experiences.”

It didn’t happen right away, but Callison eventually gained Kitty’s trust.

He described Kitty as having a “strong maternal instinct.” He said she was part of the foster program while in the research lab, and assisted other mother chimpanzees in caring for their young.

He said Kitty also “was definitely the thinker of our chimpanzees” and liked to analyze things, such as a fake termite mound that was built at the sanctuary.

“She was looking at the way we constructed it. The wheels were always turning with her,” he said.

Midge, a 39-year-old chimp at the sanctuary, is playful, while Kitty was “more reserved,” Callison said.

Additionally, he said Kitty was the matriarch of fellow chimps Midge and best friend Lulu, 50.

When Lulu had a stroke a couple years ago, Kitty stepped in to care for Lulu, bringing her things and taking on that motherly role, Callison said. Lulu has gained back 70 percent to 80 percent of her mobility, he said, and was able to repay the favor when Kitty became sick.

“She lived a full life, and she will be missed,” Callison said of Kitty.

He said Kitty would be cremated, and her ashes will be kept at the sanctuary.

Now, Samantha Miller, with the Humane Society of the United States, said they want to tell Kitty’s story “not only for Kitty but for all of the chimps being used in research.”

The goal, Callison said, is to get more chimps out of research labs and into sanctuaries.

He said those who want to remember Kitty can donate in her memory.

For more information on the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, call 903-469-3811 or visitwww.blackbeautyranch.org or the sanctuary’s Facebook page.