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Special Report: Primarily Primates' Original Care Crew Mourns Gigi's Death

December 08, 2006 | Chimpanzees / Animal Rights / Press Releases

Stephen Rene Tello and the Refuge's Traditional Caregivers Concerned About Other Animals at Risk

Gigi had been used in space research at Holloman Air Force Base, and was one of a group known through the international media as the U.S. Air Force chimpanzees.

Gigi was one of the elders. Subjected to severe research testing, Gigi had metal plates in her head where scientists placed electrodes during decompression studies.

When the Air Force divested itself of the apes in 1999, Gigi was welcomed at Primarily Primates. With a 28-year record of care, Primarily Primates is the country's pioneering private refuge for primates. It would be Gigi's home for seven years.

Gigi's personality was forceful, yet she coped with her circumstances by being a relative loner. Gigi ate well, but was always lean.

This October, a group of the sanctuary's detractors took over the sanctuary premises through a receivership that the state's Attorney General agreed to facilitate. On 6 December 2006, an update on the receiver's website (superimposed over the site belonging traditionally to Primarily Primates) said that Gigi had died from a long illness.

Said Stephen Rene Tello, a rehabilitator with the sanctuary's traditional personnel, "At first, I was not shocked in regard to her passing, although Gigi hadn't been ill prior to the October takeover. Over the next five to ten years I expect to see a lot of the air force chimpanzees pass on, as we purposefully offered refuge to older apes who had been exploited for decades in various studies, so many of the Air Force's subjects are forty or older."

But Tello was shocked to learn of December invoice from the cremation company recording Gigi's weight at only 67 pounds.

The vocal detractors who now control the sanctuary's website describe the attention given Gigi in the "last six weeks of her life" as "top-notch" -- perhaps to suggest that Gigi's earlier care at the refuge had been inappropriate.

"In fact," explains Tello, "She lived in a nice group of chimpanzees. They were compatible, with not much in-house fighting."

Continued Tello, "It is terribly disturbing to those of us who cared for Gigi for years to discover that she'd declined so rapidly and so grotesquely only 52 days after we were locked out."

Given Gigi's body's weight as last recorded, and comparing that to her previous state and to comparable chimpanzees' records, Tello stated, "Her face would have been drawn and sunken. Skin would be hanging from her bones. In seven and a half weeks, this ape literally wasted away."

Further problems are also evident. After a cold snap in San Antonio set in, it occurred to the receivership personnel that they'd have to use the heaters. They've reportedly just replaced a boiler heat system for the Air Force chimpanzees, although $1,500 was invested into it last year. The system's gas level, lines, and valves needed special maintenance for which the receiver was unprepared. The traditional caregivers note that the receiver is inexperienced with many of the normal workings of the refuge.

Additionally, Tello said, the inexperienced, temporary staffers are not accustomed to the refuge so some of them now report coming down sick. This was not an issue when the regular staff was there. Volunteers are great, but, for the same reason, an open-door policy allowing strangers in who "just come on by to help" is an unsafe practice.

"If they are exposing the chimpanzees to illnesses," said Tello, "They are further risking the lives of the older or more vulnerable animals."

Tello stressed that the chimpanzees and other sensitive animals require surroundings free from the stress and danger of illness posed by the tours, investigators, flashbulbs, dietary changes, and other various disturbances that have been constant since the receiver was installed in October.

The receivership has now had seven weeks to make its mark on the refuge. Have they improved it?

"They have improved the welfare of many lawyers," said Tello, referring to yet another package of legal submissions from the refuge's detractors this week, meant to further dismantle the refuge.

Known injuries and deaths of nonhuman primates at PPI since the receiver was installed:

* In early December 2006, the chimpanzee Gigi died.

* Also during the first week of December, a member of PPI's traditional staff who is still on the premises reported the death of a squirrel monkey.

* Just after seven chimpanzees were sent out of the refuge in November 2006, a white-handed gibbon died. The gibbon had never been ill prior to the receivership, but became severely ill and began to appear emaciated after it began.

* Uriah, a chimpanzee, sustained a severely torn lip and large bite wound on his head after people assisting the receiver threw fruit into an enclosure -- having been told by the traditional care staff not to do so until precautions were taken.

* Jordan, a ring-tailed lemur who is a former pet, was allowed to enter a group of lemurs in which he was severely injured, and, lying flat on the ground covered in lacerations, received no medical care for two days.

* On or about 10 November 2006, a spider monkey died. After the receiver took over, the monkey, Nicole, was provided with a blanket and hid under it for days. By the time she was discovered she was so sick and emaciated that emergency euthanasia was applied.

* Scoot, a howler monkey, is currently ill and losing weight, a condition that could have been precipitated by stress. Sometimes days pass before the temporary staff changes hay, and this monkey has been observed by one of the traditional caregivers seeking food in waste-coated hay.

* A cotton-top tamarin was stolen, but later returned. Chiquita, the marmoset who was living with Gizmo, is missing this week, and could only have been removed by a keyholder. Only one of the two is gone, evidence of deliberate selection and removal.

Certain other rescued primates who may be at special risk:

* Two spider monkeys, Magic and Noel, were in critical health when the receiver took over. Noel suffers from an illness much like Parkinson's disease, and the traditional staff is concerned about their current status.

* The deceased gibbon (see above section) lived with a group. What about the safety of the other gibbons? Why did this gibbon waste away and what was the cause? Where is the necropsy report?

* Where are Gigi's necropsy reports? When will official reports be submitted to the court and the Attorney General, who is responsible for this receivership? Was this contagious? What of protecting the other chimpanzees?

* A macaque was slated for essential surgery to remove a facial tumor, but has been moved out. The traditional staff is concerned about the monkey's current status.

* Howler monkeys are so sensitive to disruption that the mere sound of a car horn can suppress their appetites for days. The traditional staff is concerned about the surviving howler monkeys.

* A deaf baboon has been moved out. The baboon will be vulnerable in group situations; the traditional staff is concerned about the baboon's current status.

* Several chimpanzees who arrived in San Antonio earlier this year have been moved, purportedly on a temporary basis, to Chimp Haven of Louisiana, which is touted as a glorious sanctuary, but which is funded by -- and by law serves as a holding area for -- the National Institutes of Health. One of the chimpanzees in this situation, named Darrell, poses potential safety risks. In 2004, this individual severely injured another, who subsequently died from resultant infections. A (human) student assisting in treating a wounded chimpanzee in this same series of events was injured so badly that multiple surgeries were required. Chimp Haven is sending out rosy reports about the chimpanzees, and particularly in light of this glossy reporting, the traditional staff of PPI has concerns for the safety of humans, Darrell, and other apes.

* The receiver is attempting to remove a chimpanzee named Oliver, using trouble over a water pipe as justification. New pipe could be run around the cage without moving Oliver, requiring only temporary water shut-off for a short period when joining the new pipe. Moreover, Oliver's current enclosure connects with other living space, and new construction was nearing completion when the receivership was imposed. Thus, there is no excuse for the attempt to remove Oliver. This individual is elderly; sedation would be dangerous and possibly fatal. The traditional staff is extremely concerned about Oliver's future given his physical vulnerability and also the likelihood that this individual could be re-exploited for media purposes.

* Hank and Maggie, baboons who were formerly pets, were very close and lived together at Primarily Primates. Hank does not like to be gawked at. When unfamiliar people appeared at the refuge, Hank would nudge Maggie into a little sleeping house within their enclosure. Maggie would customarily stay there until the people would leave. When people left, if one watched from a distance, one could see Hank beckoning Maggie back out. This endearing scene was repeated many times over the years; Hank was devoted to Maggie. After Primarily Primates was taken over in October, the receiver claimed that their caring interactions constituted abusive conduct that could only be remedied by moving these baboons. So they were sent away. The traditional caregivers have imagined the stress that these two individuals have endured, during a move and handling and a new situation in which everyone would be unfamiliar to them.

* Some veterinary bills, as well as bills for a lab-work company and a cremation company, have been reportedly left in arrears after September 2006. This means all animals at the refuge are at risk. It appears that most of the money being raised by the people in the physical position to care for the refuge's residents is going to law firms.


The large number of deceased and distressed animals at Primarily Primates (PPI) since 13 October 2006 speaks volumes about the receivership that was imposed on the sanctuary on that date.

The winter is setting in now, and there are a number of vulnerable primates and other animals at Primarily Primates. What will it take for people to defend this sanctuary from the people who are dismantling it and sending its residents away -- or to the crematorium in droves?

More on Primarily Primates.....


More interesting news. Wednesday & Thursday (today) they (Theisen-Watt, Lynn-the HR personnel who is a PETA supporter and so is her mother who is out here also & Fisher) are evaluating certain employees. One male animal caretaker was fired yesterday. His girlfriend is one of the many volunteers who openly made her feelings toward Theisen-Watt & Fisher known. So not a big surprise that he was fired. They told him the reason he was fired is because he was taking too long in caring for the animals. Since when did animal care have a time limit? I do believe since I am not a supporter of PETA or Theisen-Watt I am next. Right now they have recently hired Fisher's wife & some of her friends. I bet they'd support whatever cause they are told to. For anybody to say they have a pretty good idea what goes on out here just from what they see out in the open does not paint a good picture from what goes on behind closed doors. When I was hired I was told by Theisen-Watt and Fisher to stay away from 3 particular care staff employees because they were trouble. Just so everyone knows these 3 employees were part of the orginal animal care staff. This does not create the "everyone let's pull it together for the animals" attitude. Does it? One more fact before I go back to work; Theisen-Watt's attorney does hold a PETA Activist Award. Can the connections be any more clear?

Thanks for the update on the court case. I wonder why the Attorney General is so eager to settle. Will FOA help the sanctuary once the case is over? I read a letter saying there was going to be a merger of PPI and FOA. FoA comments: FoA is helping PPI right now by helping with its legal defense. Once the court case is resolved, a merger with FoA will give PPI the financial resources to recover from the damage done by the still ongoing onslaught of Peta and the AG.

[Name withheld) wrote: "When I was hired I was told by Theisen-Watt and Fisher to stay away from 3 particular care staff employees because they were trouble. Just so everyone knows these 3 employees were part of the orginal animal care staff." Is there any kind of legal fund for former animal care staff? If there is, who's covered under it - i.e. can it serve for former volunteers too? [Blog editors' note: The former caregivers and bookkeeper were either fired or driven off by the current regime, directed by PeTA and supported by their apologists at the Attorney General's office. A defense fund for Primarily Primates has been established by Friends of Animals. FoA is paying PPI's legal expenses. Contributions to defend Primarily Primates and to defeat the efforts to undermine and destroy the primate sanctuary can be sent to: Friends of Animals, 777 Post Road, Darien, CT 06820.]

As receiver, Theisen-Watt opened the doors of the facility to PETA staff and attorneys and they immediately began to dismantle the sanctuary and wage a vicious publicity attack. She took down PPI’s original website, attempting to erase all traces of the postive accomplishments of the sanctuary, and has intead used it attack the very organization it was designed to promote. She has used PPI’s website to wage personal attacks against the founder and former director and other individuals opposing her. She has been 100% negative against the facility in her unending inflammatory statements to the media. Is this within the duties of a court-appointed receiver? The [jury] trial has yet to begin. Is this case about investigating or persecuting? Accusations are not proof and guilt depends upon evidence and due process of law. Day by day our rights are whittled away with big money influencing elections and our legal system. Sworn testimony was given in court by sanctuary staff that Theisen-Watt staged unflattering, dirty cages for the media to make the facility look bad. She admitted in court that she lied about her educational credentials. Is credibility and integrity not desirable in a court appointed receivership? PETA has had a long-standing feud with PPI. Theisen-Watt gave PETA staff and attorneys complete access to unsecured evidence. Exactly who is investigating these charges, the Attorney General or PETA? Should not evidence be secured from tampering by interested parties in the case? It has already been demonstrated – by sworn court testimony, not media propaganda - that faking evidence and lying to the court are within her arsenal. What evidence has been produced supporting the claims of PETA, Theisen-Watt and the Texas Attorney General that hundreds of thousands of dollars were misappropriated by Primarily Primates? To make these statements over and over to the media with clear intent to damage the PPI, is persecution not investigation. PPI has stated they can account for every dollar and nothing has been proven otherwise. The media is driven by unpleasant and disturbing information. It sells. PETA owes much of its success to playing to the public. PETA attorney Leanna Stormont made a statement to the news crews on the day of the raid that dogs belong with families. PETA "euthanizes" healthy cats and dogs by the thousands because it is cheaper than trying to place them in homes. Just a fine example of the blatant hypocrisy for the sake of public appearance that PETA thrives on. Information thrust into the media, whether fact or fiction, can not be retrieved from the minds of the public once it has been dispersed. I would hope that the Texas Attorney General would be far more respectful of the legal system and the rights of the citizens of Texas and not support tabloid propaganda to win cases. I would hope that the Texas Attorney General would conduct investigations in a manner above reproach. Apparently that is not the case. That any citizen or organization of this country can be convicted by media propaganda before a trial has even begun is a travesty. In this case reputations have been destroyed by a campaign of hearsay and innuendos from a joint effort of a court-appointed receivership, [the] activist group PETA and the Texas Attorney General. This is cause for alarm. I urge anyone interested in protecting your rights to contact your state representatives. The events and conduct in this case by the Texas Attorney General need to be addressed and investigated. ...activists and special interest groups should not be given the power to assume control of assets before a trial. The receiver in this case was clearly biased against the sanctuary. Her intent is clear. Her statements to the media and her intricate relationships with PETA have resulted in an abuse of power. One day it could be your property that someone with money and power wants.

Now that just shows you that everyone has an opinion and that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Bottom line.... The animals are MUCH better off now than they were. And thats all thats important.

When deciding where they're "better off" ask if you would want to be in a holding area where the National Institutes of Health calls the shots -- the same entity that uses chimpanzees in scientific experiments and testing. Does anyone really have the audacity to speak for chimpanzees in a way that indicates they are "better off" in that situation? Chimp Haven serves according to the government’s convenience under a ten-year contract. Even its board was formed under the direction of legal requirements suitable to the federal system created under the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act – a law passed as a cost-saving measure for the federal government. That law effectively subsidizes research on nonhuman apes by getting private funds to cover 25% of the yearly upkeep and housing of the apes held outside labs -- but who can, as a matter of law, be recalled into research at any time. A recent article in the Boston Globe notes how the staff of Wyoming Senator Michael B. Enzi ensured that Congress will continue to leave open the possibility that the chimpanzees at Chimp Haven might be used for scientific purposes, as “researchers might want to call back the retired chimpanzees to laboratories for homeland-security reasons." In the event of a bioterrorism attack, the Globe explains, "the chimps might be needed to test how to protect humans from toxic agents.” Indeed, that is what the co-founders of Chimp Haven understood might be asked of them when they signed up to do this, and why no true sanctuaries agreed to take this contract. In 2001, Sumner D. Matthes of the American Sanctuary Association wrote to Dr. Raymond R. O'Neill of the NIH’s National Center for Research Resources: “As our ASA Policy Statement specifies that our sanctuaries accept responsibility for the 'lifetime' care and welfare of the animals, the provisions of Public Law 106-551 [the Chimp Act], as relates to the possible NIH removal of chimpanzees from the sanctuary system, are unacceptable to ASA.” Just as the American Sanctuary Association knows, the receiver knows the mission and the legal requirements relevant to Chimp Haven's mission. The receiver also knows Chimp Haven's mission is in serious conflict with another mission -- that of PPI. And that is the mission that this receiver pledged to protect. Lee Hall Legal Director

[Blog editors' note: We at Friends of Animals welcome statements of opinion. Guests who write to our blog are responsible for verifying any and all facts which their posts may include. We are unable to research and verify all claims, or to respond to queries regarding claims made by visitors to this site. Thank you.] Chimp Haven Facts I decided to do some fact checking before making up my mind about the Chimp Haven/PPI/OSU/FOA debate. I visited Chimp Haven, read their website and tried to get the financial information from them that most non profits are happy to provide to their donors. This is what I found: Of the 200 acres Chimp Haven boosts about, less than 10 acres make up the two forested habitats. Only 38 chimps, including the new baby, live in these small pine forests. Simple math tells me that at least 50 chimps are living in cages and fenced in play yards viewing life through bars every day. There is no human contact with the chimps (other than visual), allowed at Chimp Haven unless an animal is injured and needs medical attention. I find this disturbing in many ways. Most lab chimps receive some type of human enrichment every day; the OSU chimps were raised with full physical contact with humans. To take this type of attention away from them must do emotional and mental harm. Especially babies like, Harper and Emma. I can’t imagine how an animal care taker must feel seeing them reaching out for the simplest touch and knowing they could loose their jobs if they show some compassion. I find it a strange policy for a sanctuary. All seven of the OSU chimps live in a completely enclosed cage approximately 100 x 100. Past OSU animal care staff may visit but can not touch the chimps they know so well. The OSU controversy is interesting as well. OSU claims that they asked Linda Brent, president and dictator of Chimp Haven to accept the nine chimpanzees in early 2006. She said no, blaming the NIH. Two of the OSU chimps have died since. Now Brent wants us to believe that Chimp Haven “rescued” the OSU chimps from PPI. The truth can be found on PETA’s website. PETA offered to pay all expenses and lifetime care to Chimp Haven if they would accept the seven remaining chimps. This money exchange “rescue” puts Chimp Haven in violation of their NIH grant, space that was bought and paid for by the NIH for lab chimps was given to the OSU chimps. Further thanks to Brent, whose only work experience is with an animal laboratory, Chimp Haven finds itself involved in no less than three lawsuits! 1. Chimp Haven donors lawsuit - alleging very serious mismanagement leading to multiple animal deaths and financial mismanagement. Tax payers dollars, PETA dollars, private donations, the facility is still incomplete and they need loans?? 2. PPI/PETA custody lawsuit – was it legal to accept funds from PETA to remove animals that were not owned by PETA? Was it legal to remove them at all? 3. Former employee lawsuit – and there are lots of former employees for this facility that has been housing chimps for less than two years. There may be even more lawsuits, these are the few I discovered very easily through the local paper. The Shreveport, Louisiana Times has reported on Chimp Haven many times in the past. From personal observation, the animal care staff at Chimp Haven is doing a good job. When I asked (on several occasions, in person, telephone and email), how much money was spent on administration versus direct animal care I received vague answers. No real numbers or percentages that most non profits will publish for donors. Why the secrecy? So I checked out Chimp Haven’s tax records and found that the top level employees are making high five and low six figure salaries. I was shocked – this is a non profit isn’t it? My conclusion, check out everything before making decisions on who you support. It’s simple, takes little time and it’s important. Ask questions, visit the facility, a simple Google search can produce tons of information. Weigh the good and the bad. As for me, my money will go to the REAL sanctuaries. Good luck to all of the chimps in the world. I hope someday people will realize that you belong in the wild and should not be used for medical or entertainment reasons. Until then God Bless You.


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