Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day for a Moline native who went, well, ape for the love of his life at a chimpanzee sanctuary.
Mark Lewis works for Chimp Haven, and takes care of more than 30 chimpanzees. He got his start by volunteering at Niabi Zoo, Coal Valley, after high school, and that led him to the Chimp Haven organization.
Mark and Rebekah Lewis are celebrating their ninth Valentine’s Day as a married couple. Mark, a Moline native, volunteered at Niabi Zoo, where he found his passion for animals that led him to Chimp Haven, the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary. And there he met his wife, Rebekah.
“Both of us as young kids, we were drawn to take care of animals,” Rebekah said. “We’re really into prime apes and all the great apes. One of our shared heroes was Jane Goodall and it’s been really amazing because together, now, we’ve gotten to work with chimps and we’ve also gotten to meet Jane Goodall.”
The chimps at Chimp Haven are all retired from biomedical research. On a daily basis, both Mark and Rebekah take care of more than 300 chimpanzees. In 2012, they were married at Chimp Haven so the chimps could be at their wedding.
“Our wedding was at the observation deck at Chimp Haven,” Mark said. “It overlooks our moats and our forest and habitats that the chimps live in, so we were hoping that some of the chimps would come down to participate. But it turned out to be about 100 degrees that day in September in Louisiana, so they were in their indoor space with fans and air conditioning.”
Mark and Rebekah have three children. The chimps played a big role with the gender reveal for their second child.
“We prepared some boxes for them to open up and they had treats inside. We found out we were having a boy, so we had blueberries, blue Jello, and blue streamers,” Mark said. “So, the chimps came out from their inside areas, their outside habitat, and opened the boxes and there was just blue everywhere.”