Wenka's Story

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Wenka's Story

From Project R&R (Release & Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories)

50+ Years in a Lab… and Still Counting

[Wenka] was old and grateful for the small kindnesses, like good fruit and sunshine. … It would be nice if she could be retired and live out her days quietly with other older chimps, enjoying good food, soft bedding, and warm sunshine.
—A former Yerkes lab worker

Wenka was born in a laboratory in 1954. The 1950s – a decade characterized by President Eisenhower, Elvis Presley, the birth of the Baby Boom generation, the introduction of the polio vaccine, and James Dean – are long gone. We all live in a very different world now. But not Wenka. Five decades later, she is still in a lab and still being used for research.

An elder now, Wenka is the oldest known chimpanzee in a U.S. lab. She is reportedly being used in aging and cognitive studies at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, where she has been through a gamut of research. She has also been used to breed chimpanzees for research and has had all of her babies taken from her. Through the years, she has had myriad cage-mate friends or family who were eventually taken from her. She also has spent time alone. According to one lab caregiver, she has “spent plenty of time rocking in the back corner of her cage,” (an abnormal behavior associated with the stress of laboratory institutionalization).

Some lab caregivers have described Wenka as having a “1000 mile stare,” saying that her dissociation makes it difficult to reach her after all these years in a lab. A former Yerkes lab worker recalled:

Wenka was the reason I stayed at Yerkes for more years than I should have. I love her like no one else. I found her a little bit – meaning I found her personality, her spirit – on some days anyway…

Yet on rare occasions, Wenka has connected and shown a spark of life in her eyes as well as a spirit deep down – a spirit that has the right to be expressed and nurtured in sanctuary.

After five decades and with few remaining years left, Wenka deserves to spend the rest of her days in the relative comfort of sanctuary. Project R&R’s Elders Campaign is working to secure Wenka’s release along with the release of the other elder chimpanzees born in the 1950s who are still held in labs around the country. We have made a promise to Wenka and all the others – a promise we mean to keep.


Go here for more information about Wenka. Go here to take action to get Wenka into a sanctuary, out of laboratories.

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