AAP rescues chimpanzee Marria who lived at a family home for thirteen years

Chimpansee Marria
Chimpanzee Marria, now at AAP

AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection rescued a chimpanzee last weekend, who lived with a family in a house near Lisbon, Portugal for thirteen years. The chimpanzee named Marria was stolen from the wild in Guinea-Bissau (Africa) as a baby. She then joined a family and was doing things along with them: eating, sleeping, showering and watching TV. All those years she never saw any of her own species, something which is very important for a chimpanzee. Lately Marria had been locked in a bare garage because she was showing unpredictable behavior. AAP saved her from this plight and brought her to the Netherlands by plane. She is now recovering in the care of AAP in Almere. At AAP she can experience step by step what it's like to really live as a chimpanzee. 

Last week AAP received a request from the Portuguese authorities to urgently rescue chimpanzee Marria. David van Gennep, director of AAP: "We didn’t need to think about it for long. Three days later we were standing at the house to rescue Marria. Unfortunately we didn’t get past the gate because the owner wouldn’t let us in. From a distance I heard Marria’s loud cries, but I couldn’t do anything to calm her down. Fortunately it finally worked out. A specialist sedated her and after that she was placed in a transport crate for the flight to the Netherlands. We took her to Lisbon airport and picked her up again at Schiphol airport."

‘Living doll’

At the location it became clear that all these years Marria had been treated as a human being. Van Gennep: "She was sort of like a living doll in the family. That may seem to be very nice and enjoyable, but it is not. A chimpanzee is not a human being and has different needs. It is amazing that this went “well” for so long, because usually chimpanzees display dominant behavior at a younger age, when they try to achieve a higher rank in the group just as they do in natural circumstances. But sooner or later it always goes wrong when a chimpanzee lives at home with humans."

Pajamas on and brushing teeth

The owner told Van Gennep about the daily routine: "Marria gets herself dressed, brushes her teeth, washes her hands, takes a bath, sleeps in a bed and puts pajamas on at bedtime. She eats with us at the table and uses cutlery. She loves vegetable soup with olive oil and dips bread into it. She can make clear what she wants to drink. She relieves herself in a diaper. "

Watching tv

And that’s not all. Also in areas of leisure Marria was treated like a human being. "Marria likes to play with Lego and with little rugs, browses through magazines and also watches television", the owner continues. "She then sits on the couch, zaps with the remote control and watches all kinds of television programs, except for programs including violence. She doesn’t like that. She also makes drawings and paintings. "

Many deprivations

At AAP Marria can learn and experience step by step what it's like to really live as a chimpanzee. Godelieve Kranendonk, behavioral specialist at AAP: "It's a bizarre situation. The owners had the best intentions, but a chimpanzee who has lived with humans in a house has been deprived of a great deal. Especially since the animal has not had contact with her own species. It is as if we would live with a tribe that communicates with clicks. You can look after yourself well enough, but nobody really understands you. "

Gradual accustomization

Marria starts her time at AAP in quarantine, where her mental and physical health will be examined thoroughly. Kranendonk: "We gradually let her get used to the life of a real chimpanzee. So in the beginning she gets enrichment (play things) that she is accustomed to, such as magazines, but also enrichment she has no knowledge of as yet, like balls she can pick food out from. We will closely monitor whether the approach suits Marria. "

Memmories from the wild

"A chimpanzee who has lived with human beings in a house for a long time has no idea how to behave as a chimpanzee," Kranendonk explains. "How quickly an animal learns depends partly on the animal, but also on how long the animal lived with the same species. The longer that was, the better. An animal doesn’t easily forget the experiences it gained in the wild. Marria lived in the wild for two months, which is very short, but we hope that she still remembers something."

Guidance from other chimpanzees

After the quarantine period it will be time for Marria to become acquainted with animals of the same species. Kranendonk: "That will be a challenge for Marria, considering the situation she comes from, but fortunately we have several chimpanzees who are very socially skilled and can guide Marria there. These chimpanzees on the one hand are very tolerant and friendly, but on the other hand they can also set limits. Marria needs that clarity. If she is a smart lady, she will pick it up just like that. Time will tell.“