REVIEW: Sue Perkins and the Chimp Santuary

Hannah Parker reviews the newest BBC animal documentary, presented by Sue Perkins…


Blue Planet 2 has only been off our screens for a couple of weeks, but the BBC has found another animal related tear-jerker to start 2018 off. Sue Perkins was tasked with the mostly lovely, but sometimes emotionally difficult job of showing us around a sanctuary in America where lab chimps are being sent to retire. What we learn from this documentary is so much more than the mistreatment they faced.

America only banned laboratory testing on chimpanzees two years ago, so they’re currently in the midst of trying to rehabilitate all of the animals that were stuck in lab cages living a hellish life. The documentary begins with Sue meeting a group of female chimps and a group of male chimps that will hopefully be put together and given their own area of forest to live out the rest of their lives together. But a lot of these animals haven’t been in contact with a different sex for years – and some never have – so it’s a risky process.

We’re instantly introduced to two very different chimps. The first being the very boisterous Pierre. He puffs up his fur, he spits at Sue numerous times, he’s the epitome of an alpha male. He comes from a life of being tested on, barely fed, living in inhumane circumstances, and all of this coming from humans for years so it’s understandable as to why he’s cautious around new people.

On the opposite side of the hallway, Sue gains an instant friendship with Jill. She’s very chilled out, and she made a warning noise before Pierre spat at Sue, which Perkins took to be Jill looking out for her. She’s often seen sitting by herself very quietly, and when some footage is shown later on of how chimps were being treated at the exact lab she was held captive, it’s completely understandable as to why she’s so reserved.

Although we aren’t shown much of the footage of the chimps at a research lab, seeing Sue’s tear-covered cheeks and hearing the screams from the toddler monkeys as the doors on the cages shut is enough to have anyone blubbing. We’re also introduced to a gorgeous chimp named Henry. He’s a little different to the others, as he lived his life as a pet in someone’s garage for fifteen years. He was kept so far away from the life a monkey should be living that it’s likely he didn’t even know he was a chimp. He sits away from the other animals and regularly wraps his security blanket around him. And yet he seems so timid, so regal, such a beautiful creature.

The documentary isn’t all doom and gloom. Sue meets many people that have gained such incredible relationships with these chimps, and we even see relationships growing between the chimps themselves. We see baby chimps being born into much happier lives. And although they’re still relying on humans for their food and being kept in captivity, it’s a much happier, freer and ultimately healthier life for them.

It’s another documentary that reminds you how horrible our species truly are. These chimps are clever, social and emotionally intelligent. They deserve so much better than how we treated them, and now many of them are on heaps of medication due to the diseases they’ve been injected with, such as HIV and hepatitis.

Although Sue meets people who unfortunately don’t regret their actions in terms of animal abuse as much as we’d like them to, we also see how these chimps are finally given a chance to live a happy life. It’ll make you cry, but it’ll also make you smile, and it offers a whole new perspective of chimps and their unique personalities.

If you missed it, you can watch the documentary online here.

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