‘Free the Animals’ Sneak Peek: Breaking the Species Barrier

Please enjoy this special excerpt from the 30th anniversary edition of PETA President Ingrid Newkirk’s landmark book Free the Animals. Be sure to check PETA Prime regularly for more exclusive sneak peeks, and order your copy today to give your animal activism a boost!

Valerie had Dr. William London’s desk drawer open, looking for some post-its, when she found a set of keys. They were marked, “Front,” and “Back,” and “Do Not Copy.” She picked them up and ran to the Xerox room.

“Bear,” Valerie ripped the papers he was copying out of the machine. “Quick. Xerox these keys, front and back.” Bear looked at her as if she was out of her mind but did as she asked. As soon as the papers came out of the machine Valerie bunched them into her pocket, snatched the keys off the plate, and ran back into Dr. London’s office, restoring them to their place.

As soon as Bear finished one lot of copying, he stashed the copies away in his knapsack and came racing in to pick up another set. They worked undisturbed for over two hours before Simba returned.

Valerie heard Simba coming down the hall and raced into the copying room. Bear had switched the copier off in time.

“We’d best go now,” Simba said.

“Simba,” Valerie said, “please let us see the chimps. It means everything to us.”

“Lady,” Simba said, “I can’t do that. You people are going to get me in a mess of trouble if I’m not careful.”

“Please. Just for a minute. It won’t hurt anything. Please.”

“We won’t disturb anything. No one will ever know,” Bear added.

Simba looked at them and gave up.

“OK,” he said, shaking his head. “For one minute. That’s all, then we’ve got to go.”

He led them down the hallway to the door that separated the lab from the offices. Valerie could feel her pulse racing as Simba opened the huge dividing door. What would they see on the other side? Half of her wanted to know; the other half wished she had never known about this place.

Already, she could hear what she would soon see: chimpanzees hitting their heads against the solid metal doors of their isolation chambers.

Simba led them past two huge stainless steel cage washers and into a corridor. The banging was getting louder and louder.

“You go on down this way,” he said, pointing to the corridor on the left, away from the lighted hallway on the building exterior. “I’ll go keep the boy company. You just take a look and turn around and come straight back here. Don’t dawdle now.”

The hallway stretched out for what seemed half a city block, with doors at about ten-foot intervals all the way down it. As soon as Simba turned away, Bear pulled out the video camera. He raced with Valerie for the first door and pulled it open. Then Bear stopped dead in his tracks.

Valerie was a split second behind him. Bear’s eyes were glued to the sight before him. Neither he nor Valerie had ever seen a chimpanzee in real life before. The sight was awesome. The apes in front of them must have weighed sixty to one hundred pounds. But it was not so much their size that had Valerie and Bear riveted. It was how the apes were kept.

In the first room, there were eight steel chambers, cages with solid steel bars that must have been an inch thick. The cages were encased in solid metal sheaths, except for the doors, which were covered in some sort of extra-heavy-duty plastic, like the bulletproof plastic on a drive-up bank window. A cage within a cage. Exactly as Miki had related, they were the size of stand-up refrigerators, and inside each one—barely visible through the foggy, scratched plastic—was a full-grown chimpanzee, able only to stand and sit. That, and nothing more.

Valerie’s attention shifted to the noise from the third cage. A huge male who seemed to occupy every square inch of his chamber was hitting his head over and over again into the sides of his tomb. From elsewhere Valerie could hear other chimpanzees doing the same thing. The cacophony mixed with the strange, wheezing noise and incessant roar of the pumps, which sucked air in and out of the sealed chambers through long, black tubes.

A numbered tag, like the tag a store would put on a dress for sale, hung from each cage. “Number 1164,” read the first tag, “Infected with viral hepatitis.” Inside the chamber sat Number 1164 himself, rocking back and forth and mumbling to himself as though demented.

Next to him, but unable to see the other inmates through the solid metal doors, stood Number 87, staring into the nothingness that his or her world had been reduced to forever. Next, Number 41, a smaller chimpanzee, who turned on his heels, around and around, performing a macabre circular dance that expressed his insanity at having nothing to touch but the metal bars, no other living being with whom to communicate. Not one of the inmates in the room acknowledged Valerie’s or Bear’s presence. They were too far gone.

“It’s primate hell,” Valerie whispered.

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