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Lulu the Chimp Breaking Records at BBR

Lulu Belle, a 52-year-old chimpanzee at Black Beauty Ranch, isn’t content with just being a survivor, she wants to make a name for herself!

  • Lulu enjoying the afternoon sun. HSUS

  • Lulu playing with a toy. HSUS

  • Even Lulu needs sunglasses in the bright, Texas sun. HSUS

  • Lulu playing with a branch. HSUS

Lulu Belle, a 52-year-old chimpanzee, has been a fixture at our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas for almost 20 years. And in that time she has continually amazed us—from thriving after being rescued from a biomedical research facility to recovering from a stroke, she’s a true survivor. But recently she added something new to her list of attributes: record-breaker.

Lulu was brought to Black Beauty Ranch in May of 1997 after spending 12 years in biomedical research for Hepatitis B vaccine trials. The facility she was kept in was known for their particularly inhumane conditions, which ultimately led to its closing. Initially all the primates at the lab were to be sold to another biomedical research lab, but thankfully the lead veterinarian, Dr. James Mahoney, acted quickly to ensure these poor animals would no longer have to live a life of misery. He secretly orchestrated for 115 chimpanzees and 100 rhesus macaques to be placed in sanctuary—and that’s how both Lulu Belle and Midge made their way to Black Beauty.

A few years after her arrival at Black Beauty it was discovered that Lulu was diabetic. Despite having spent a large portion of her life in captivity, Lulu was and still is a wild animal, so it was up to our staff to figure out how to control her diabetes in a way that would maintain her quality of life as a wild animal but also keep her healthy.

Unfortunately, due to complications from her diabetes, Lulu suffered a stroke in 2012. But after months of diet control and careful monitoring, Lulu was able to be taken off insulin. And although she has had a few setbacks since her initial stroke, she has continued moving forward, making her the longest-living chimpanzee post-stroke.

But Lulu didn’t stop breaking records there. This spring Lulu became what is currently believed to be the first chimpanzee in a North America Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) sanctuary to complete a voluntary blood draw, allowing enough blood to be drawn to do a full blood panel as opposed to the small amount she was already giving for blood glucose readings.

Primate Team Lead Rebecca Cisneros accomplished this with Lulu entirely through positive reinforcement training (operant conditioning), and Lulu’s achievement reduces stress and improves her healthcare immensely. Thanks to her willingness to volunteer for blood draws, the care team will no longer have to sedate her to do a full blood panel or a body exam, allowing us much more insight into her health status without having to unnecessarily stress her out.

Our Lulu, however, wasn’t satisfied with simply being the oldest living chimpanzee post-stroke and the first to allow a voluntary blood draw. She also volunteered to have her blood pressure taken through a finger cuff, becoming the first chimp ever to do so according to the Great Ape Heart Project. This, along with her voluntary blood draw, has allowed our primate team to provide the highest level of healthcare to Lulu with minimal stress.

Lulu continues to amaze us every day with her resilience and spirit. But her success is truly a testament to the primate team’s dedication and commitment to working with Lulu, and all the other primates at Black Beauty, to ensure that they are not only healthy but have the highest quality of life possible for an animal in sanctuary. If you were as impressed as we were by Lulu's accomplishment and want to support our work at Black Beauty Ranch, you can symbolically adopt Lulu's friend, Midge, through a monthly donation to The Fund for Animals.

Watch a video of Lulu working with our Primate Team Lead, Rebecca, very happily having her blood pressure taken:

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