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Message from Stephen R. Tello, President of Primarily Primates

October 31, 2006 | Chimpanzees

From: Stephen R. Tello
President of Primarily Primates

I thank everyone for being such devoted friends to Primarily Primates, Inc. (PPI). As you know, our sanctuary has come under a series of legal attacks, the most recent one involving a proceeding brought by the Texas State Attorney General, acting on the complaint of PETA.

A receiver, Lee Watt, appointed by the Court as a receiver with respect to all affairs of PPI, has been given broad authority, which, as shown below, threatens the well-being and existence of PPI.

A hearing on the receiver's application for a temporary injunction (which, if granted, would give the receiver and PeTA total control of the sanctuary) produced some startling revelations. Please forgive me if I write in a bit of court-reporter style legalese here for a moment.

Theisen-Watt, in her application for the receiver appointment, consisting of an affidavit, submitted under penalty for perjury, included false statements. The false statements consisted of a resume saying she possessed a bachelor of science degree but in truth, she doesn't have even a two-year associates degree.

Theisen-Watt testified that she heads a broad group of volunteers at the sanctuary, but in court barely knew the names of even a few of these volunteers and could not say which volunteers were working on what issues. In fact, Theisen-Watt was unable to give the name of a single one of the people who are looking through PPI's financial records. In court, Lee Theisen-Watt admitted that she allowed dozens of people to run through PPI's documents, safes, file cabinets, donor mailing lists, computers, financial accounts. When the lawyers asked her who she allowed to go through our office like that she actually said she "didn't know." She didn't take down all of the peoples' names nor know who they all worked for. She also didn't have any accounting for donations made to PPI during the two weeks she was there. She just said people have been so kind and donated things we need but there is no accounting for these items.

Theisen-Watt claimed in court testimony that the PPI employees have been overworked, yet without proper explanation she has told employees not to come to work.

Three witnesses, employees of PPI, spoke of what has happened since the appointment of receiver on October 13, 2006. The great majority of Theisen-Watt's "volunteers" "“ several are with PETA - have merely entered the property, then photographed and frightened the animals. Additional testimony established that the volunteers, working under the authority of the receiver, sedated animals prior to photographing them. Photographs were also taken of areas before cleaning, in an attempt to misrepresent the state of the sanctuary. There was further testimony establishing that Watt's preference is to simply kill the animals on the property and testimony also described Theisen-Watt as a participant in the death of 200 dogs, victims of Katrina whom she was suppose to care for but if they were killed I would say that task obviously failed.

A receiver is a role with the highest responsibilities "“ what the lawyers call a fiduciary role. Yet, by her own admissions on direct testimony, it seems that there is a difference between that role and what the receiver did and didn't do, what she did and didn't know.

To my knowledge so far, Theisen-Watt has removed over 250 animals from the place they call home. From what she said on the stand, these are just some of the animals she felt had to leave their home and life at PPI: Four horses and ponies (who were free-roaming on 60 acres); 2 pot-bellied pigs; we had 21 turkeys (some wild and many saved by vegans on Thanksgiving day) all gone; we had 27 waterfowl (11 of the Canadian geese were discarded after starring in the feature Winged Migration) on our pond all gone. We had 20 pigeons. She opened the coop door and set them free. We know from past experience that the pigeons have no idea how to survive in the wild; the raccoons and hawks will find it easy to eat them. She sent off probably 50 guinea pigs, 80 chickens of various types, 2 bobcats, 2 macaws, 2 baboons; 7 dogs; 30 plus peafowl and Guinea hens who were free-roaming birds on 80 acres; a macaque who was scheduled to have a tumor removed, several capuchins; 2 Celebes macaques; the list goes on.

Everyday, PETA lawyers and PETA staff walk around the sanctuary according to the real animal caregivers. They walk up to the enclosures with their friends and families and allow them to take pictures of the monkeys up close, frightening them with flash bulbs. PETA and the Attorney General have turned PPI into a three-ring circus. Falsehoods continue to spread about our loyal workers.

Even as I waited in the court room, I had to hear our caregivers tell the judge and all how, under the receivership of Lee Theisen-Watt, a lemur we rescued named Jordan was released into an enclosure we he sustained critical injuries. If not for our worker Elena, Jordon may have even died, because he was introduced to the lemur troop to whom he had not been acclimated. She found Jordon lying flat on the ground, afraid to move, covered in lacerations. Elena asked the staff of the receiver for medical help. Jordan, at the time of Elena's testimony in court, has still not received medical attention and that was 2 days later.

Elena, on the stand, said she was walking along the grounds and the PETA-paid veterinarian Mel Richardson made a direct comment to her and two other caregivers stating something to the effect of wishing there was a laser to kill all the old capuchins.

Jeff also took the stand. Jeff is in charge of a large group of Air Force chimpanzees and other chimpanzees that you might recognize by name from our newsletters. Jeff asked the volunteers that PETA and Lee "“Theisen Watt have allowed to roam the grounds of PPI untrained and unsupervised not to feed treats to a group of bachelor chimpanzees. Jeff knows how to care for the chimpanzees and he knows that there is a way to give to all the chimpanzees without causing fights. Yet when Jeff took his lunch break, he returned to find that the volunteers of Lee Theisen-Watt and PETA gave this group treats and Uriah (the most vulnerable) was attacked, taking a gash dangerously close to his right eye.

I've just heard reports that a cotton-top tamarin was stolen from PPI last night. Watt, PETA and the Attorney General have unjustly taken over PPI claiming they are here to do good for the animals, yet in the two weeks that they have been in charge, I'm facing the reality of animals injured and receiving no medical care, animals missing, and hundreds of animals being disposed of by Watt.

As I write this Monday morning, I have yet to go on the stand. Tuesday I will. I hope that I stand up for the animals of PPI as well as Jeff, James, and Elena did. I suppose we now have three more (human) primates needing good care as they have given to others. Hearing their testimony to how poorly they are being treated, to how anxiety-producing the atmosphere is for the nonhuman animals, how they see other animals being moved daily, how we lack reports of their whereabouts or how they are doing, how the office is being rummaged through by people who the receiver evidently cannot even identify... And this is supposed to be in the best interest of the public and the animals?

In my opinion, this takeover of PPI is purely for public fund-raising at the expense of the animals at PPI. Weirdly, it seems like the officials of the Texas State Attorney General are willing to be aligned with that -- or is it still not obvious to their office?

Kindly ask them, as I will.


PETA can be a possible source of help animals, but in this instance, as in many other PETA intrusions, they have become self-rightous and maudlin. PETA's director, Ingrid Newkirk, when she worked in an animal shelter, in the evening would take home a dog slated for euthanizia the next morning so that the dog could experience the feeling of what a loving home was like, if just for one evening, i.e., the dog would know what it was like to be loved, be warm, be fed, be in a caring home setting. In my opinion, this is the utmost in cruelty. We animal people would like to create a utopia for all animals, but there is no utopia for me, for my dogs and cat, and for any creature. Cruelty is definitely out, but also is arrogant behavior. Your description of PETA'S actions at PPI rings true to me.

This is shameful. I am so sorry to hear how PPI is being persecuted. Is there anything Friends of Animals supporters can do to help? I thought PETA was supposed to be a good organization who actually cared about the welfare of animals and the people who cared for them. I don't understand why they are doing this.

How can PETA be stopped? Their actions are insane! How can they say that they care about animals when they allow things like what has happend to those poor animals at PPI happen? And this Theisen-Watt person needs to go to jail! This just breaks my heart! I pray for those who are truely trying to save PPI!

PETA's puppet, Lee Theisen-Watt, dashed before the cameras to pose for cute and cuddly shoots getting hugs from the monkeys instead of actually tending to the animals or supervising what is happening at PPI. She testified that she is clueless as to who is on the property and that she failed to keep records of donations coming into PPI since she arrived. Instead of chasing the media spotlight, perhaps she could have found the time to fact check her own resume and actually supervise who has had access to these animals and who is rummaging through the files at PPI during her watch. Isn’t that her job? To demonstrate just how unprepared and inexperienced she was to provide care for the animals at PPI, she sent out pleas that she needed volunteers to care for the animals – “She said there's no need to even call...just show up,” appears on a website for birdwatchers. These are not healthy cats and dogs. These are discarded exotic pets and lab animals. Having volunteers take care of them is just absurd. Now there are reports of animals missing and getting hurt because of improper care under her control. How ironic – isn’t that what their case is all about - that these animals are not cared for properly? Her solution for coming unprepared – ship the animals out and let someone else worry about them. It’s a disgrace that Theisen-Watt would call in the TV cameras in to document dirty cages – AFTER they had been poorly tended to by her own inexperienced volunteers. I was wondering why the TV film crews didn’t have access to film the condition of the animals when the raid occurred. Lies and staging dirty cages for the media. I expect this sort of thing from PETA. It is clear PETA is in full control of decisions at PPI. Watt as the receiver is a joke. It is commendable to fight for what you believe in, but to use lies and deception to prove evidence for your case is wrong. Shameful.

I have been a supporter of PPI and Peta for many years. I am saddened that the two groups cannot work out the problems without more stress to the animals at PPI. I'm not sure who to believe but being in the cat rescue business, I know rescue is overwhelming and sometimes things aren't 100 percent all of the time. Bottom line is: PPI's goals and how many animals it has helped. Solution: as hard as it is, find good volunteers, trustworthy and dependable, to do the proper job. We can't afford to lose any safe haven for our chimps. What happened to giving PPI a warning or second chance? Dept. of Ag even gives Ringling Bros. second chances, known animal abusers. How bad is PPI to their animals? I am truely saddened and disappointed! Therese Podoyak

Nothing PETA does surprises me anymore. PETA's sexist campaigns reinforce the very instrumentalist thinking that enables nonhumans to be exploited in the first place; its support for welfare campigns -- like giving chickens more cage space -- reinforces the speciesist view the it's the conditions under which the abuse occurs that is the problem, not the exploitation as such; and it "euthanises" healthy animals because it is seemly incapable of distinguishing a rights position from a welfare position. It's about time we rejected garish animal welfare organisations like PETA and started to build a true animal rights movement predicated on the obligitoriness of veganism and abilitionist, emancipatory campaigns designed to extirpate speciesism.

Haven't read much lately on the current situation. Please send an update... Thanks, Valerie Las Vegas, NV [Blog editors' note: Will do. (Readers awaiting update should return to this site on the afternoon of 8 Nov 2006 for a new release.)]

Any updates on Jordan and Uriah? Does anyone know how many animals have been put down? Please keep us informed.

I only know a little, but I do know that Jordan is getting better with the exception of a very bad case of stress. Uriah is getting better as well but he will take much longer, considering his wounds - inflicted at the negligence of the [newly imposed] staff and volunteers - are not something he will over come in a short period of time. His face will have permanent damage. His lip was cut basically in half as if someone took scissors and just cut upward on the left side of his nose. The cut is from his lip to the bottom of his nose. Again, Uriah will have permanent scarring on his face as well as the gash on his head that happened before the lip incident. That wound as well was caused by the negligence of the care staff and volunteers that Theisen-Watt appointed. The two will eventually be fine, but not without a world of stress and change having disrupted their lives. I have been told by inside sources that Lee Theisen-Watt was there when Jordan was let out into the habitat that he was being introduced before yet being fully assimilated into the troup. She knew that Jordan's caretaker - who is one of the original staff members - was not informed of his release, and from what I've heard she did it out of her own regard, not Jordan's or his caretaker's. It could have all been avoided too, with a little bit of cooperation.

There is nothing worse than being falsely accused of something. I feel so badly for the people who have devoted their lives to saving these animals. I feel even worse for the animals who are being displaced. (At first, I almost believed PETA's claims. However, after having read the information from Tello and Feral, I started to doubt the information. Both Tello and Feral's letters gave me the impression that they are highly educated individuals with compassion toward animals. Everything that I have received in the past from Primarily Primates seems to show that the sanctuary had the best interest of the animals. Frankly, I stopped listening to PETA years ago after their wacky ad about the New York mayor getting cancer from milk. I just can't imagine that a facility that was visited by Jane Goodall could possibly have harmed animals as they claim. [The blog editors add that Virginia Landau, an Arizona primatologist with the Goodall Institute, when given unfettered access to the property and records on recent visits to Primarily Primates, felt satisfied with the quality of care. Landau, who visits zoos nationwide to improve conditions for captive primates, said of Primarily Primates, "The animals look good." See: Cindy Tumiel, in “Primates in the Courtroom: Sanctuary at Center of Fight” (San Antonio Express-News; 7 May 2006).


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