Thursday, October 6, 2011

In memory of a great chimpanzee, and with love for a great lady

Patti Ragan and Grub on his 20th birthday
It is always bad to hear about death of loved ones. The death of an elderly parent or geriatric animal is immeasurably sad – but it is, after all, expected sooner or later. When unexpected death comes to those at the height of their lives, it seems to me that the sorrow carves just a bit deeper. I realize that people who have never truly connected to an animal may not understand when I say this: I believe that when you lose a loved one, it doesn’t matter that the loved one doesn’t walk upright or speak in vocalized words. Love is love, loss is loss, and pain is pain.

This afternoon I learned that a wonderful chimpanzee who had been healthy and vibrant lost his life as he laid in the arms of a woman who cared for him for almost every day of his 20 years. I am so sad for Grub, a kind, sensitive, funny, and loving chimpanzee. I am even sadder for Patti Ragan, my friend who loved him.

When you read her words, you will learn a lot. You will learn about Grub and you will understand his role in inspiring the establishment of her sanctuary. You will sense the connection between two beings who are different species but who share a common spirit. Above all, I believe, you will feel the deep and abiding love of a woman who has dedicated her life to caring for great apes like Grub.

Memorial for Grub

A guest contribution from Patti Ragan
Founder and director, Center for Great Apes 
Wauchula, Florida

Losing one of our great ape residents is the hardest and saddest part of our work in providing sanctuary care for them. This week, our hearts are breaking with the loss of our first chimpanzee resident at the Center for Great Apes – our precious Grub.

Grub was the most wonderful chimpanzee and had many fans and friends, both chimp and human. He passed Tuesday in my arms after a sudden illness that was advanced and terminal. He was 20 years old.

While I know that Grub is not suffering and is out of pain now, my grief comes from a sense of great loss in not having him physically in our lives anymore. But I realize that all the wonderful qualities and intelligence expressed by Grub… along with the joy and sweetness he brought to others… are always in our thoughts and memories and did not pass away with Grub.

Today, still in the blur of tears and sadness, I want to remember the happiest part of Grub’s life and the things that made Grub such a special and dear fellow.

Grub has been in my care since he was 12 weeks old when he arrived at a Miami tourist attraction in 1991 where I was already volunteering to care for infant orangutan Pongo. As I helped to take care of several infant apes there, I became more aware of issues around the retirement of hand-raised apes used in entertainment and also as pets. It was Pongo and Grub (and concern for their future) who provided the impetus to start a sanctuary for orangutans and chimpanzees coming out of these situations.

It is because of Grub that over 30 chimpanzees have had a home at our sanctuary over the past 18 years.

Grub grew up with Kenya (now 18), Noelle (17), and Toddy (39). Two years ago, former Hollywood performer Mowgli (12) joined this group and became Grub’s best male friend. Grub has lived and played with other chimpanzees here too – Brooks, Angel, Kodua, and just recently, Chipper. But Noelle and Grub had a special bond, and they spent many hours in play and grooming sessions.

Grub gives Knuckles a kind caress
His most amazing relationship was with our young handicapped chimpanzee, Knuckles, who arrived at the Center nearly 10 years ago when he was 2 years old. Knuckles had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and had difficulty walking. Grub, Kenya, and Noelle all accepted Knuckles into their group for limited playtimes. Grub was the most gentle with him and seemed to be fully aware of his limitations and specialness. However, when Mowgli joined the group, he was not so gentle with Knuckles and would playfully try to poke him or pull Knuckles’ hair through the wire mesh when Knuckles visited Grub’s group. But Grub would keep an eye on Mowgli, and if he saw that Mowgli was getting too rambunctious with Knuckles, Grub would either gently put his hand on Mowgli’s arm to stop him… or give him a stern eye to warn Mowgli not to touch Knuckles.

Grub’s gentle nature was also evident in his love of dogs. As a youngster, Grub grew up around several dogs that lived at the tourist attraction. He giggled in games of chase with the dogs and would be ‘over the moon’ when they licked his face! As he grew in strength, we had to limit his direct contact for the safety of the dogs. But Grub still had a golden retriever friend in Wauchula (Joe) who was the happy recipient of monkey chow biscuits that Grub would toss to him… and then play “chase” as Joe ran around the outside of Grub’s habitat.

Grub was a master mask-maker
While Grub was a well-known chimpanzee artist (once featured on the NBC Today Show) and loved to paint, the most striking activity that most people will remember Grub for was his penchant for mask-making. He learned to make masks when a volunteer made one for him from a paper plate when he was only 3 years old in Miami. But he didn’t want to wear it… he wanted her to put it on. From that one time watching the volunteer tear out eyeholes, he began to experiment with paper bags, cereal boxes, wrapping paper… and when he couldn’t find paper in his habitat, he would pick up fallen leaves and make tiny masks from those. His joy seemed to be in presenting these “Grub-masks” to visitors at the Center and watching them wear them. In fact, he made a beautiful mask from a red cereal box for Jane Goodall when she visited him in 2005. I will miss those special gifts from Grubby.

In mourning the loss of Grub, we also must celebrate his life and continue to provide a home with quality care for the 43 other chimpanzees and orangutans who are here now… in large part because of Grub.

I am grateful to all the caregivers, staff, board members, and volunteers who have helped provide Grub and his chimpanzee family with a happy life at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula.

And, I am also very thankful for all our members and supporters who help make this all possible each year for EVERY great ape at the sanctuary.

With love and in memory of our dearest Grub,


NOTE from Dawn: If you would like to make a gesture in Grub’s memory, please consider giving a donation to the Center for Great Apes. I think if we “adopt Grub,” Patti will know we do it with love -- for her, for Grub, and for all of the apes at this wonderful sanctuary.

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