Roman 1966-2014

dsc04577@SavetheChimps, Inc. is a 501c3 organization providing permanent sanctuary for the lifelong care of chimpanzees rescued from research laboratories, the entertainment industry, and the pet trade. In 2014, one of their long time residents, Roman, passed away. He was 48 years old. As a animal artist and activist, STC is one of many animal rescue orgs I follow on social media. I’d been scrolling through my feed and saw his photo. I was simply captivated by his charm. His gentleness just touched my heart. His face was both kind and strong and perhaps due to his age and life experiences, his eyes seemed to hold a world of deep thought and introspection that really pulled me in. I immediately went to the Save the Chimps’ website to read his biography and see more pictures of him.
Later, I called the sanctuary and requested permission to use the photo I’d been so captivated by, as reference for a portrait. The rest is history. As a professional pet portrait artist, I had to work on my friend Roman when I didn’t have any other commissions which is why it’s taken me some time, but I’m proud to say I’ve finally finished. Next week, his portrait will be donated to Save the Chimps, Inc. to help in future fundraising efforts.
I have grown so comfortable having Roman in the studio with me – and I will miss him. However, I find happiness and peace knowing he will someday be lovingly framed and hung in the company of those who care so much for the chimps and for the great work they do for the animals at Save the Chimps, Inc.
Thank you to Roman’s caregiver who took the amazing reference photo, with her phone! Thank you to Save the Chimps, Inc. for their incredible mission, dedication and for accepting my gift, and thank you to my friend Roman, long may you rest in peace sweet boy.

Below is an edited excerpt from his obit from 2014…

Save the Chimps is saddened to share that one of our most handsome and dignified chimpanzees, Roman, has passed away at the approximate age of 48, after a struggle with heart disease.

Roman’s exact date and place of birth are unknown, but it is estimated that he was born in 1966, possibly in the wild. Roman’s records start on May 6, 1975, when he was brought to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, NM. Roman was used as a research subject in seven different biomedical studies. He was anesthetized at least 225 times and had multiple liver biopsies. One of the experimental vaccines tested on Roman was for contraception; it did not work, as Roman went on to father seven children.

In 1997, Roman was transferred from the US Air Force to The Coulston Foundation, a research lab also based in Alamogordo, NM. In 2002, Coulston went bankrupt, and Save the Chimps stepped in to rescue Roman and over 250 other chimpanzees. Roman joined Kiley’s family, becoming the group’s elder statesman. Kind, charming, and mellow, Roman won the hearts of both his chimpanzee family and his loving caregivers. One of his caregivers, Torrie, remembers:

“Roman’s eyes were always full of thought and love. He was the first chimp with whom I developed a close bond. I loved Roman. We all did. Everyone who met him fell in love with him. He was just special like that. He will always have a place in my heart.”

Roman was an important part of his group, and they respected him. Roman and his family
were released onto a spacious island home, which included a large Western-style platform known as “The Saloon.” He loved the island, and often slept on the Saloon under the stars.

Earlier this year, Roman began to show signs of his age, slowing down and eating less. All signs pointed to cardiac disease. A stubborn chimp, Roman refused to take most medications. Who could blame him, after years of being given substances in the research lab that only harmed his body? The veterinarians and chimpanzee care staff did whatever Roman would allow to see to his comfort and well-being, and his best chimpanzee friends Kay, Lupe, and Gertrude were never far from his side. As time passed, however, Roman became progressively worse, no longer eating or active. The veterinarians and his caregivers made the decision to humanely euthanize him. On June 17 Roman passed away peacefully on his island. His caregivers were with him during his final moments.

Roman’s last day seemed to play out like a movie. He spent his final moments on the island he so loved. The sun warmed his face, the wind blew through his hair, he foraged some sunflower seeds, and then he peacefully went to sleep. It was an experience I will never forget. Roman was the reason I woke up every morning, and and I feel privileged to have been a part of his world.”

Roman is survived by his son Nigida, and daughter Patty, both of Save the Chimps. Another son, B.C., and two daughters, Lena and Toni-Renee, reside at the Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF), waiting for their chance at retirement.

A large photo of Roman and Kay graces the road exiting the sanctuary, a daily reminder of the gentle, handsome chimp with the kind eyes who touched our hearts.

We love you, Roman.
May you sleep under the stars wherever you roam.