Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chimps are Finally Getting Proper Care

While it is probably true that the 3 caretakers who were employed by PPI prior to the Attorney General’s intervention “loved” the animals, they had less than 18 months combined experience caring for primates. The consulting veterinarian that was hired by PPI in June 2006, had not worked with primates for over 25 years. And while Wally Swett and Stephen Tello did have experience, their ideological commitments prevented them from acknowledging changing standards for how to appropriately care for chimpanzees.

For example, Sarah (above) is an enculturated chimpanzee who has been engaged with people in cognitive tasks for over 40 years. She was the first chimp to be taught a symbolic language. (Washoe was taught sign language just before Sarah, and then she and Lana, who lives in Atlanta, were taught symbolic languages). Sarah was the chimpanzee who led psychologists to ask the question “Do chimpanzees have a theory of mind?” Sarah’s intelligence has been the most comprehensively studied of all chimpanzees in cognitive research. Whether you approve of how Sarah has spent her life or not, the fact is that Sarah is highly dependent on regular human stimulation and enrichment. Sarah was denied this at PPI while Swett and then Tello were in charge – she had no transition period, had nothing to occupy her mind, and was literally being bored to death.

Now she has comfortable nesting material, books and magazines to look through, and she and all the chimps are getting proper care. In addition to Stephany and Klaree who have a combined 11 years experience caring for the former OSU primates, and Mel Richardson, D.V.M, with over 20 years of experience in the veterinary care of exotic animals, including chimpanzees and other primates, primate experts from around the country have flown to Texas to assist and others have been consulted to ensure that all the primates at PPI get the care they deserve.

Since the AG took over, every day all the primates at PPI are getting fresh produce, clean beddings, and forage. The neighbors who live closest to the facility are reporting that it is quieter than its ever been.

But, even though there are now experienced chimpanzee caregivers tending to the former OSU chimps and the other 65 chimps at PPI, it will still be in the best interest of all the chimpanzees to be moved to genuine sanctuaries. At true sanctuaries the facilities are safe for human and non-human primates alike; the highest standards of sanitation and animal management are followed; and trained caretakers, primate veterinarians, and experts on chimpanzee behavior are permanently available to oversee the chimps’ physical and psychological well-being in environments that are better suited for their life-long care.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chimpanzee Situation is "Unimaginably Awful"

This is Harper in June 2005 while at OSU. Before being sent to PPI, he and Emma played outdoors daily. (picture on left by LG 2005)

Since early September Harper and Emma have been locked indoors in a tiny, dark, rat and roach infested enclosure. (picture on right by KB October 18, 2006)

Yesterday, October 22, was the first time they were outdoors in 6 weeks. They were extremely happy and it made going back into their filthy enclosure more tolerable. Today they were running and playing outdoors all day and we can only hope that they sleep well tonight. They must be moved to a true sanctuary soon so they can begin to forget their horrible ordeal at PPI.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Former Caregivers now Cleaning Up OSU’s Mess

Since they loaded 9 chimps and 3 capuchin monkeys onto a truck in late February 2006, Stephany Harris and Klaree Boose have appealed to everyone they could think of to fulfill the commitment they made to care for these animals. They were told by OSU officials that the chimps were going someplace better to retire, then Kermit died before he was even unloaded from his transport cage. They repeatedly asked OSU administrators to follow standard primate care protocol and allow them to help the chimps with this major transition. OSU wanted to wash their hands of it. They offered to care for the animals free of charge at PPI for a few months while the chimps adjusted. Wallace Swett, then director of PPI, refused and then Bobby died. They joined a lawsuit funded by PETA and through their testimony helped convince a court appointed trustee that the animals should be moved to a true sanctuary, but then the judge threw the case out of court claiming they didn’t have standing.

Now they are standing in years of accumulated filth, cleaning up other people’s tragic messes. After 7 frightening months, they have finally been reunited with the 7 remaining chimpanzees and two capuchins who were dumped by OSU and neglected by PPI. But there is a lot of work that still must be done -- every day the chimps stay at PPI their suffering continues.

Harris says “I have alternated between insomnia and nightmares since I first saw the conditions at PPI on June 30th. At that time Sarah, Sheba, and Rain looked like they were on the verge of death. After being back here for just under a week, I can now see that the conditions are far worse than I even imagined. There is simply no way to get this place clean. None of the animals should be living in these conditions.”

Harris and Boose have been focused on comforting and reviving the chimpanzees they have worked with for 6 years. Darrell, who is almost 27 years old, has been alone in a small, hot cage with no light since arriving at PPI in March. He has become more alert and engaged since Harris and Boose arrived but he is also confused, he needs to be reunited with his chimpanzee family. Since early September, Emma and Harper, who are both 7 years old and youngest of the former OSU animals, have been locked in a rodent and roach infested indoor cage that is ¼ the size of Darrell’s, roughly 5 feet wide by 15 feet deep. Boose said “Chimps, especially youngsters, need space to play. At OSU, Emma and Harper ran around in woods, climbed trees, and did summersaults in the grass. Even though they have hay on the floor of the cage and have toys to play with, their psychological well-being depends on their being moved to a real sanctuary.” Sarah too has been locked in a small, substandard enclosure that gives her very little room to move. Harris says, “Sarah is in her 40s and it is important for her physical health for her to get exercise.”

Sheba, Keeli, and Ivy are together in an enclosure and of all the animals Sheba was in the worst shape when Harris and Boose arrived. Sheba has begun eating vociferously and the social structure of this small group has stabilized. Harris reports that “Sheba’s voice is getting stronger and Sheba no longer has to compete with Ivy and Keeli for food. ” Boose said, "Today Sheba was sitting in between Ivy and Keeli and they were all eating their bananas."

While Harris and Boose are grateful that the Texas Attorney General has stepped in, Boose says “There aren’t enough hours in a day to properly care for the 7 chimps and 2 monkeys we are responsible for in this dysfunctional situation, let alone the 65 other chimpanzees who are so desperate for attention. We have been trying to provide enrichment to and care for all of them, but the only thing that will really help is for them all to get out of here. We are really hoping the sanctuary community will rescue them.”

Friday, October 20, 2006

Horror Stories Revealed in Court

People who have been on the scene helping the animals at PPI this week described the grim and filthy environment in which the primates and other exotic animals have been kept.

Though Sarah has put on weight and Sheba has begun eating regularly, Emma and Harper, the 7 year olds, have been locked indoors in a small, rodent infested enclosure for over a month. Darrell remains isolated. They all need to be reunited and moved immediately.

According to a San Antonio Express report, the facility had only five full-time employees for 850 to 1,000 animals. There was no quarantine area, no veterinary clinic, and no daily logbook for employees to keep tabs on individual animals. Many of the animals, Mel Richardson a veterinarian from California said, had no records at all.

The stench at the facility is terrible. With no septic system, employees were said to be told to hose down animal waste, sending raw sewage into open pits just four feet from an enclosure housing a couple of chimpanzees.

Many of the doors to enclosed night houses don't function, Richardson testified, leaving animals that evolved in temperate climates subjected to extreme weather.

"A sanctuary provides comfort but there is no comfort for these animals," Richardson testified. As the judge was shown a photograph taken Thursday morning of a monkey, Richardson continued: "This is a macaque sitting on a concrete floor. She deserves comfort. She deserves a blanket. She hasn't been provided with the basics."

Many of the enclosures are too small for the animals. A mother tamarin has begun eating her young, probably due to stress, Richardson testified.

A group of macaws, or parrots, which until Wednesday apparently spent months confined to a dark enclosure, plucked every feather from their chests, Richardson said.

According to an emergency request filed by Robert L. Trimble of the attorney general's office, a female baboon named Maggie was confined to a small cage with a dominant and aggressive male who "will not allow her to leave the dark sleeping box attached to the cage."

"Maggie is clearly afraid of the male baboon. Because the cage is very small, when she is attacked, there is no place where Maggie can safely retreat or escape the male's aggressive assaults." She lived in her own excrement, Trimble said.

Attorney general's lawyers are combing through records in an attempt to account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations that Swett and another defendant, Stephen Rene Tello, are believed to have "misappropriated and misapplied ... for their personal use and other wasteful purposes," according to court records.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

OSU Animals Should be Moving Soon

At an emergency hearing in Austin, Texas, today a judge granted the receiver authority to move animals that are in most need of immediate rescue. All 72 chimpanzees at PPI ultimately need to be moved to a true sanctuary that can provide larger enclosures, access to fresh air and sunshine, nesting materials, adequate nutrition, exercise, and enrichment to promote their psychological well-being. Lee Theisen-Watt said "Every single day these animals are suffering and that's why we initiated this motion, because to wait another week would be to allow these animals to continue to suffer." She said that there are approximately 20 chimpanzees and 20 monkeys who are suffering the most and they will begin moving them as soon as possible. The OSU animals are among those that will be moved immediately so they can begin the long road to recovery. Though they have experienced horrible traumas, the loss of Kermit and Bobby, and they continue to suffer from being seperated from their family group, the chimps have revealed the subtle facets of their personalities to Stephany and Klaree. Now Stephany and Klaree are confident that the chimps will return to their uniquely expressive and comfortable selves when they are moved to a proper facility.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nightmares Behind Every Closed Door

While the former OSU chimps are improving daily -- Sheba's voice is getting stronger and Darrell is getting more playful -- the depth of the suffering at PPI is hard to imagine. The place is so filthy and the animals are so desperate for attention it is difficult to understand how the head of OSU's University Laboratory Animal Resources could have visited this place 4 times and failed to notice the violations of minimal animal care standards. Lee Theisen-Watt said "Attila the Hun would take over and it would be under better management."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Chimps are Already Happier

Stephany and Klaree have been spending all of their daylight hours with the chimps and are also trying to do what they can to brighten things up for the hundreds of other primates at PPI.

They have been carrying around book bags filled with nuts and sunflower seeds to give to the animals they see as they move from Sheba, Keeli, and Ivy’s enclosure to Sarah’s enclosure, or to Darrell’s isolation cage, or to Harper and Emma’s small indoor enclosure.

Sarah was probably the happiest getting a blanket and immediately built a nest, but all the chimps are thrilled to have blankets and nesting materials. Stephany and Klaree have been going to a laundry mat every night to wash the blankets as there is no laundry facility on the PPI property. They spread straw in the bottom of Harper and Emma’s enclosure and hid little toys all around for them to find. Darrell has been so happy to see them that the twinkle in his eye is coming back after just a few days. Ivy and Keeli, who had been behaving inappropriately since they don’t have any alphas around to remind them how to behave, immediately responded to Stephany and Klaree and are letting Sheba eat. And Sheba is eating and eating and eating. She had been so distressed and wasn’t able to compete for food that she was starving. She was so happy to have a coloring book and crayons, one of her favorite activities. Once the group is reunited she may possibly recover from her trauma.

Rain and Ulysses are doing much better too. Though it took a day or so, they seem to be more comfortable and took great joy in eating the onions that Steph and Klaree brought them.

It is truly remarkable how much of a difference the reunion has made and while the conditions at PPI are unspeakably awful, the animals now have hope.

TX Attorney General Steps in for the Animals

On October 13, Primarily Primates was placed under court ordered management after a judge agreed with the overwhelming evidence of inhumane conditions and "great mismanagement" of donation money at the Texas animal holding facility. There are also concerns about "health and hygiene issues."

Lee Theisen-Watt, a Texas expert in wild animal rehabilitation, has been given the temporary charge of overseeing the facility. Lee reports that the animals are cramped, kept in delipidated enclosures, and that each day "reveals another horror."

Kermit's Community Supporters have been trying to reunite Stephany Harris and Klaree Boose, the caretakers of the former OSU animals, with the primates - Sarah, Sheba, Darrell, Keeli, Ivy, Harper, Emma, Rain, and Ulysses since March 1 to see that the animals are cared for in they ways they deserve. On Saturday morning, October 14, the reunion finally happened.