James Balog. Milla.
This is a portrait of a chimp named "Milla" taken by photographer James Balog. Milla had been poached as an infant when her family group was killed by poachers. She was taken out of the wild and spent her entire juvenile and adult life in a cage at a bar in Tanzania. There, she was the main attraction as a booze-drinking and cigarette-smoking addict, kept for the guests’ entertainment. Jane Goodall discovered her there in 1990, but because of Milla’s addictions, Jane couldn’t find a place for her in the chimpanzee orphanage at Gombe National Park in Tanzania.
Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia was the only place that could take her in. Jane personally carried Milla, who was now seventeen years old, in an airplane to Zambia. Because of Milla's addictions, she went through intensive and prolonged care. Since she had lived alone and not in larger communities as chimpanzees usually do, she had to be carefully integrated into one of the chimpanzee families after being nursed back to health. She also had to battle severe withdrawal symptoms. Milla became known as the “Grande Dame” of Chimfunshi and has lived in the sanctuary since 1990.
Photographer James Balog was there the day when Milla took her first steps out of a cage and onto soil and grass since she had been an infant.
"She put one foot out of her enclosure, slowly and tentatively, feeling the ground beneath her foot. Then she stepped out, stood up and ran away on her hind legs. I’ll never forget that as she ran she patted her right paw on her chest, over her heart, and made one of those beautiful chimpanzee calls of joy.
I took this to be a celebration of her freedom, similar to emotions any human would have had. Very touching. I spent the rest of the morning with her, walking through the forest and sitting up in a tree, as Milla surveyed the natural world once more. She was completely open and content with my presence. It was a truly amazing experience for me, the naked ape!"
Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives and share at least 96 percent of the same DNA we do.
For nearly 40 years, photographer James Balog has broken new conceptual and artistic ground on one of the most important issues of our era: human modification of nature.
Follow James on Instagram @james_balog