Meet Vanilla the chimpanzee. She’s 28 years old but, until very recently, she’d never seen the open sky.
Vanilla spent her early years in a biomedical research laboratory in New York where chimpanzees were kept in small cages suspended from the ground “like bird cages,” according to Save the Chimps, a sanctuary that cares for chimpanzees rescued from research laboratories, the pet trade and the entertainment industry.
When the research laboratory shuttered in the 1990s, Vanilla was sent across the country to Wildlife Waystation in California, an animal sanctuary specializing in the care and rehabilitation of wild and exotic animals. But that wasn’t the end of Vanilla’s journey: Wildlife Waystation closed suddenly in 2019, forcing Vanilla and the other 41 chimps housed there to be rehomed.
Vanilla was sent across the country once more, this time to Save the Chimps in Florida. There, she was integrated into a large family of chimpanzees with whom she ventured out to see the open sky for the first time. According to Save the Chimps, all of Vanilla’s former dwellings had cage tops.
In the sweet video, Vanilla seems tentative as she steps outside, but another chimp — Dwight, the group’s alpha — gives her an encouraging hug. Then Vanilla turns her face skyward and an unmistakable look of awe comes over her.
See the heartwarming moment yourself in Save the Chimp’s YouTube video below:
She and her family now spend their days exploring the three-acre island they call home, much of which you can also see in the video as Vanilla walks through an open, green field.
The viral video reached millions of viewers across six continents, Save the Chimps wrote on its Facebook page.
People are touched by Vanilla’s story: “To watch her utter joy at her new freedom is something that’s affected me so much,” wrote Paula Evans in a comment.
“Vanilla’s expression and focus on the sky is so telling,” wrote another commenter, Jess Otoday. “I’m so glad she is finally enjoying her freedom from cages and that people can see how important it is to chimpanzees everywhere.”
We couldn’t agree more!