Courtney—the youngest gibbon at our sanctuary—turns 11 years old today!

But since I can’t interview Courtney herself on this fine occasion (she would just keep trying to steal my pen), I thought I’d check in with one of her favorite people—Barbara Allison, IPPL’s long-time office manager, who first came to IPPL in 1998, four years before Courtney was born.

“To this day, Courtney and I have a very special relationship,” says Barbara.  

Eleven years ago, we put together a whole team of IPPL staff, night nannies, and volunteers to help hand-raise Courtney, after her own mother attacked her when she was less than two weeks old. But Barbara has been around for the long haul. And she has many special memories of our gibbon gal’s earliest years.

Courtney in 2002

Courtney as an infant: Barbara’s “little chicken.”

“When I first held Courtney, she was so tiny and helpless, she looked like a plucked chicken. All I wanted to do was protect this little baby, who looked at you with her wide, brown eyes,” says Barbara. “My name for her was ‘Chicken,’ and I still call her that, with love. She will squeal whenever I call her ‘My Chicken.’”

Yes, Courtney spent much of the first years of her life in the IPPL office. As Barbara sat at her desk, opening the mail and writing thank-you notes, Courtney would be nearby in a little nest of blankets. “She would sit beside me, and I would give her my pocketbook to play with. She would go through it and take out every little thing, one by one—lipstick, comb, compact, packs of gum, wallet (though I’d take out the change, or she’d have it all over the floor). I would put everything back, and then she would to do it all over again. This kept her occupied for hours.”

Courtney grooming Barbara

Courtney still loves visits from Barbara–and still loves grooming Barbara’s hair, as she did this afternoon.

In some ways, says Barbara, “she was like any human baby growing up. She learned to understand ‘No’ when we didn’t want her to do something, like picking up things she could hurt herself with or generally misbehaving.”

I remember that the staff was always amazed that Courtney would never yank on Barbara’s earrings. Courtney (who still loves all manner of sparkly things) was ever the first to notice whenever Barbara got a new pair; Courtney would immediately want to pat and lick at the jewelry, but she would always do so very gently. “She has never tried to bite or scratch me, to this day,” says Barbara.

For months, Barbara would carry her around inside her sweatshirt, and for years Barbara always ran to Courtney whenever she cried. Because they spent so much time together, says Barbara, “I think she thought I was her mom–but now she knows that she’s a gibbon.”


Courtney with Barbara

Barbara is one of the few people on this planet who is allowed to clean Courtney’s face. Do not try this at home!