We used to believe that emotions like love, pain, and gratitude can only be felt by humans. But decades of research have shown that is not true.
For example, chimpanzees, who share 98.8% of our DNA, can also experience these things just as powerfully as we do.
This story showing the incredible bond between humans and chimpanzees may have happened many years ago, but it still touches people’s hearts to this day.
One morning in January 1974, a group of chimpanzees were to be released from their cold steel cages and taken to the outside world.
These animals had not seen sunlight for six years because they were used as guinea pigs for hepatitis research. Scientists have already found the vaccine, which means that certain chimpanzees are no longer needed in the laboratory.
They were to be released into a sanctuary in South Florida to enjoy a freedom they had never experienced before.
While this was great news, there was a problem: they were too afraid to go out.
Linda Koebner, an animal behavior specialist who was a 23-year-old graduate student at the time, was her caretaker.
“They were terrified to leave the safety of their transport cage,” she said in a segment of the 1999 documentary “The Wisdom of the Wild.”
“Whether it was fear of stepping on grass, they hadn’t been on anything but hard bars for years, or just the feel of the wind and sun. They just huddled in doors and wouldn’t come out.”
But finally, she was able to alleviate her fears and convinced them to step onto the grass.
“Eventually we convinced them, and Doll was on top.” Koebner said. “But some of the others had never tasted any kind of freedom since they were babies on their mother’s back, and they had been in these little boxes for years and years.”
She then spent the next four years teaching a woman named Swing, a young man named Sparky, and a six-year-old Doll how to fend for themselves.
She cared for them every day and became their source of comfort whenever they needed security. Since this was a one-time experiment, no one knew how the animals would respond to being outdoors again.
Koebner enjoyed every minute she spent with the chimpanzees, but she ultimately had to move on.
Two decades later, she had the opportunity to visit the remaining chimpanzees. In the documentary, Koebner is seen taking a boat over a small body of water to where the animals live.
As she walked over to the other side, Swing comes over to greet her. Not knowing if the chimpanzees would recognize her, Koebner asked them, “Do you remember me?”
And as if she answered “yes”, Swing holds out his hand to Koebner and shows him a big smile. It was clear that the sweet chimpanzee still remembered her!
Overcome with her emotion, Koebner began to cry and, seeing that she looked upset, Swing quickly hugged her.
Suddenly, another chimpanzee, Doll, comes over excitedly to greet her. She hugged her too and the two chimpanzees made noises as if they were crying.
The couple clearly missed his former caretaker, who spent so much time making sure they were safe during his release many years ago.
“Chimpanzees have given us so much in this world,” Koebner says in the documentary. “So much knowledge about ourselves, about our social life, about our dispositions, because they are very similar to us as beings.”
Incredibly, more than 30 chimpanzees have found refuge in the sanctuary in South Florida. Inspired by his story, Koebner later founded the non-profit chimpanzee sanctuary “Chimp Haven” in Louisiana in 1995.
“These chimpanzees have taught me about resilience.” she said. “All of them have been through such tremendous adversity and yet they forgive and are whole again.”