Billy Jo was purchased in 1983 after some 15 years in entertainment. During those years he had his teeth knocked out with a crow bar. He fared no better in the lab. In 14 years at the lab, Ch-447 was knocked down over 289 times - 65 times by dart, sometimes with 4 or 5 men surrounding his cage. To this day, Billy cannot bear to have strangers grouped in front of him. In addition to several HIV challenges, Billy endured 40 punch liver biopsies, 3 open wedge liver biopsies, 3 bone marrow biopsies and 2 lymph node biopsies with no tangible or practical results. He also chewed off his thumbs waking up alone from knockdowns when no one was around to care for him. During one fit of anxiety, he bit off his index finger. Anxious, aggressive, and fearful, Billy banged incessantly on his cage, rocking and staring into space when left alone. Even today, Billy is still plagued by anxiety attacks- attacks so bad that they leave this majestic adult male chimpanzee choking, gagging and convulsing.
Date of birth: June 17, 1968 - February 14, 2006
Aka: Billy, Bill, William, Bear, and Bub
Personality: Billy was a dear, sweet, lost and complicated soul. Many days he was full of anxiety and frustration as he tried to manage the world he lived in. He was loving and very lovable, yet he could be incredibly cruel and angry. In one moment he was in the full brunt of his rage and bitterness, only to switch to a tender being in need of reassurance and comfort in the next moment.
His mood swings were a challenge for anyone near him, especially his chimpanzee family who had a difficult time understanding what he was going through and why he was so volatile all the time. The chimps enjoyed his happy moods, but always seemed unsure and ready for his switch from nice to tyrant. Billy hurt others. They in turn hurt him, leaving him without anyone’s loyalty and instead only with their fear of him. Fortunately, his human family and friends knew why he and everyone else at Fauna had reason to be angry and on an emotional roller coaster.
Billy loved to laugh and play. He almost always sought affection or friendship from strangers who looked interested in him. He was social with just about every human who came to the chimp house. Billy was extremely handsome and magnetic. He had impressive displays that could not be ignored. He commanded our full attention always. If he could not attract you with his sweetness, then he would use an explosive display which certainly got your attention.
He could be frightening and he knew it. But once he knew that he had your full respect, he was a different guy. He would go from spitting and throwing things at you, to sitting down, gesturing for the person to come over for an interaction. In truth, he had no other way of controlling his environment. His method worked so he continued to do it ‘til the day he died.
He was very social with humans and had a number of human friends -- more than any of the other Fauna residents. His charisma drew people his way. Meeting or being with Billy left you feeling you had experienced something special and magical. I (and every one at Fauna) was completely in love with my dear friend Billy Jo. I could always count on him to want to be with me. And, I could always rely on him to help me when we were participating in any of the media work we had to do to help all chimpanzees. He loved to be there and take part in these special events, making him an amazing ambassador.
Through the footage and articles and photos with him typically at the center of the story, he helped a lot of people come to understand the tragedy and sadness associated with the life that he and all chimpanzees in captivity face daily. Through his media coverage, Billy showed people in all parts of the world how use in a lab and a life in captivity can break ones spirit and destroy a life.
Billy raised so many emotions for everyone who met him. When he showed us his fury, we always had the choice to walk away. Yet so many people would turn back and look again, hoping for acceptance from Billy, hoping to have a chance to be near him and to feel his incredible energy. For many of us, our admiration and respect for him made us want to help calm him, bring him back from a rage, and have him feel comfortable and relaxed once again. Given all he had gone through, it was the least we could do for him – try to help him through his hard times. Billy almost always responded to people who cared enough to want to be with him…even in his pain.
Billy was incredibly intelligent and completely intuitive. Given his sensitivity and astuteness, it had to be extremely difficult for him to see all the things that he saw in the laboratory. He reacted immediately if anyone used a rough tone of voice or spoke in a condescending way. He even understood being laughed at and was terribly offended if he was disrespected in this way… as opposed to having a laugh together, in which he delighted.
We witnessed many of Billy’s emotional outbursts, and it was very clear what his likes and dislikes were. No one likes to be insulted, and Billy was no exception. Billy could be a “Bear”-- the evolution of one of his nicknames. It was up to us to come to understand him and the limitations his captivity imposed on him…with all their frustrations. Once we did, we learned how to do all we could to make his life better.
We learned to not make a lot of noise when we arrived in the chimp house. We learned to whisper good morning to all, and to keep the lights low until everyone was up. We never forced Billy to move rooms unless he was ready. This made life better for everyone, especially Billy. Every day was not so smooth and on the days when he was awoken too soon, he was still a Bear. On those days, we quickly made his new room up or let him return to his old room and provided him with nice fresh sheets, which helped him settle down.
Billy commanded a lot of respect, a great deal of attention, and as much love as any heart could give. With the enormous love for him that he elicited from us, we were able to reach into this Great Chimpanzee’s soul, warm his heart, and make him feel loved and cared for in a way he had not experienced for too long a time.
Social Status: Tyrant in social settings, not tolerated by most, feared by some, constantly challenged by others. Has had the most violent attacks made on him by the whole group. Great difficulty in any social setting.
Favorite Activities: Billy loved most to be with people. If he had been given a different life, it is hard to know what he would have enjoyed. But at Fauna, everyone came to be a part of his life. Yes for sure he had people he tormented and disliked, but they were few and far between. And, Billy would give (almost) everyone a second and third chance.
Billy loved to nap, frequently and peacefully. It was an absolute pleasure to see him relaxed and comfy. But remember, his nickname, “The Bear” if he was awoken too abruptly. Billy used to get up very early in the morning, around 5:00 am, a serene time to go outside, alone and just sit peacefully. He would have a fruit or snack, and then go back to bed around 7:00 am. So when we would arrive in the morning at 8:00, he would still be asleep, not ready to get up, have the lights on, or be expected to change rooms for cleaning. He was a delight and a joy when he awoke peacefully, loving to stretch, groan, take his time, curl up, tuck his arms in with his head tucked into his arms. Listening to his sweet morning groans was always a special time for us with Billy.
Billy loved to watch television in the mornings too. By 9:00 am he was usually just rising and liked to relax and watch his favorite exercise program. This seemed to help keep his anxiety down and gave him something to focus on other than the stress of the cleaning going on around him. Afternoons, after lunch and the nap, he would pass time watching the soap operas, a chimpanzee favorite. None of us know why, but we see it often. Then while waiting for dinner, he watched Oprah.
Billy would often paint and seemed to love giving us his art. We loved to watch him do it. It was time we had to spend together. Any one who had a painting session with Billy could easily see that this was extremely rewarding for him, as well. He was very good at it and created lovely pieces of art.
Favorite Foods: Billy loved all human foods. Raised as a human child, as a young boy and teen, he had a lot of different foods. When he ended up in the research lab, all these things were taken from him. Instead he was to eat basic lab chow (similar to dry dog biscuits), and very few fruits and vegetables.
In sanctuary, we soon learned that his favorites were bananas, grapes, watermelon, pasta, bread, pizza and ice cream-- big treats for him. He began to enjoy lettuce, endives, cooked vegetables and red peppers.
He enjoyed eating and we always felt a great deal of appreciation from Billy when we served him something he truly enjoyed. He savored his food and literally shook with excitement when he saw something he loved.
Billy was a pleasure to serve. Everyone made an effort to find just what he would like to eat, making sure he had some of his favorite foods everyday.
He was very clear about what he wanted and he helped us find all the right things. He helped give us the chance to provide for him in a way no one else ever did.
Billy Jo left us on February 14, 2006, at age 37.
Billy Jo was one of Fauna’s most famous residents, He was an ambassador for all chimpanzees and for Fauna. For nearly 10 years, Billy was the first face you saw and the first voice you heard when you arrived at Fauna.
Billy was always there to meet anyone new, always available for a social situation, even if not always in a good mood. He had the most unforgettable presence, and the most majestic of looks. Incredibly handsome and extremely charming, he was a very complex character.
He was intelligent and perceptive. He understood so many conversations that he was easy to talk to and simple conversations with him could usually get him into doing things that needed to be done. He would always try to help us once he understood what we needed from him.
Billy was a troubled soul and very confused about who he was and how he fit in. He did not do very well with other chimpanzees, and yet, of course, he was not able to live in the human world either which would have been his choice. This conflict left him alone a great deal of the time. He so often seemed sad about this. Yet, when he was with his chimpanzee family, it would often be a big problem for him as he simply didn’t always fit in.
Billy had a close relationship with Sue Ellen, with whom he spent a lot of time when he was young and a part of the ‘human world’ before the lab. For short periods of time, he liked Yoko a lot, and laughed and tickled him, but it was Chance, Petra and Rachel that he could live with the longest. They seemed to understand and tolerate his personality. Even so, his life in the chimp house was challenging, and the situation so fragile, that he was always in trouble or afraid.
Billy is a sad example of why captivity -- cross fostering, entertainment, and research -- is so destructive to the chimpanzee mind, soul and body.Billy is missed terribly by his hundreds of human friends. We only have to see him in a photo or a documentary and we are brought to tears thinking about this very special chimpanzee person.
“ Good night sweet prince”