Trinity University Press

Jane Goodall-Dan Westfall

Happy Birthday from Dan and Cheeta

Dan Westfall

    Dan Westfall, who founded the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary in Palm Springs, California, says that meeting Dr. Jane Goodall altered his life. He met her at the Los Angeles Zoo many years ago when she was doing a book signing for a group of wildlife enthusiasts. He told her about becoming the caretaker of Cheeta the Chimp, one of the chimpanzees who was used in the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller many years ago. Cheeta was raised by Dan’s uncle, Tony Gentry, and was featured in the entertainment industry during the late 1930s and early 1940s. When Tony died, Dan took on the responsibility of caring for Cheeta for the remainder of his life. This chimpanzee was a fortunate one because his trainer treated him like a best friend and was very kind to him. Many of the other animal actors, however, were not so lucky. Some were abused or even killed during their tenures as show props.

    Upon learning of Dan’s story and his past as a trainer, as well as his great love for animals, Dr. Goodall suggested that he launch a safe haven for ex-show business primates. Her inspiration soon led to Dan opening the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary in 1991 to provide retired entertainment apes and monkeys with a caring, nurturing, and loving home for their final days. The name of the sanctuary, adopted in honor of our beloved chimp, stands for Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes. The goal is to provide surviving animals who outlive their usefulness in the industry with a good home and plenty of enrichment activities.

    About five years ago, Jane made a visit to the sanctuary, which was the beginning of a truly wonderful friendship. She spent time with Dan, Cheeta, and the other primates who live at the sanctuary and even made a video tape of Cheeta saying Happy 75th Birthday to her in chimpanzee language. Since Cheeta is the most famous and beloved chimpanzee of all, Dr. Goodall and Dan agreed that he should be named Global Ambassador for his species and represent the welfare of all primates in captivity. His legend, along with Jane’s, will be a remarkable one.

    Dan describes Dr. Goodall as a gracious and soft-spoken lady who has accomplished astonishing achievements for all primates, both in the wild and in captivity. Her scientific research and efforts to teach the world about conservation have also done tremendous things for the survival of many other species.

    Dr. Goodall, Dan, and Cheeta have teamed up on several occasions in support of the chimpanzees of Gombe. In order to raise donations, Jane has auctioned several of Cheeta’s paintings for the charity, two of which brought $10,000. His artwork, lovingly called “Apestracts,” are now featured in 30 countries around the world and also the National Museum of Art in London. Hopefully, he and Dr. Goodall will raise lots more money over the years for the health and welfare of Cheeta’s cousins around the world.

    According to Jane’s biography, her favorite books as a child were Tarzan and Dr. Doolittle. She dreamed of jungle adventures where she was the real Jane and thought she would certainly be much better than the one on TV. She has truly lived the life of her dreams, and her work has greatly influenced our knowledge and understanding of primate behavior and exactly how much like humans they truly are. Jane understands that animals have emotions and intelligence just like we do, and she has fought for their rights for decades. She is a true hero in the hearts of millions of people, and her influence will provide positive support for wildlife for centuries to come. Wishing the very best birthday ever to our dear and wonderful friend, Jane.

    Dan Westfall is the founder of the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary and a friend of Dr. Jane Goodall for many years. Dan’s photographer and friend, Christina Bush, assisted him with drafting his contribution.