An Open Letter to Mary Beth Sweetland of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),

From Stephen R. Tello of Primarily Primates (PPI).

To Mary Beth Sweetland:

An estimated 18 million Americans have alcohol dependency problems. Referring to any of these people as “fall down drunks” shows a lack of medical knowledge and basic humaneness. Primarily Primates, however, has never condoned Wallace Swett’s use of alcohol. Wallace Swett stepped down as the President and Executive Director on August 28th, 2006. The Board felt this was a positive change for Primarily Primates and would allow us to forge ahead, reorganize and revitalize the sanctuary. I stepped in as Interim Executive Director and have worked hard over the past two months to begin the process of improving the quality of care our sanctuary’s nonhuman residents deserve. Primarily Primates’ priority has always been to provide care for unwanted animals, feeling that they deserve compassion and are not disposable. (We feel that way about all kinds of animals, including humans; thus Primarily Primates works through Krissie’s Kids, a separate organization that is under our care and raises separate funds to help disabled children.)

Our process of changeover was underway until October 13th. Swett, Primarily Primates and I are being treated as guilty of allegations that have never been demonstrated as true. That has not stopped the media and PETA from repeating them as though they were. Indeed, you and PETA are now into a pattern of recycling old claims that have been made and answered.

Let me be clear: The staff at Primarily Primates cares deeply about primates and all animals. Staff members are there in all types of weather, with little to no benefits. They understand that we are here simply because we attempt to care for animals that the world wants to forget. Including animals PETA has sent to Primarily Primates — although PETA has not donated a single penny in over a decade or more to help them.

Unlike PETA — a group that kills animals by the thousands each year and calls that ghoulish sanitation process “euthanasia” — we put our hearts and souls into saving and preserving life. So references to “hoarding” I believe are better classified as a desire to help and not turn any animal in need away. Primarily Primates in fact places many animals in other sanctuaries and has for years, as you’ll note if you review some of our placements with the American Sanctuary Association and the American Zoological Association. We know we can’t save them all, but we also believe that we should try to find animals a home before we pull out the syringes to kill them.

Mr. Swett’s purchase of animals was as an individual with his personal income. No funds from Primarily Primates were used. We’ve corrected you on this; you are lying about this issue now. (As for your sanctimonious opinions on whether nonhuman beings should never be bought out of commerce, you might wish to study history: even the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote in justification of buying humans, including himself.)

Concerning the well water at PPI and your claim that it is contaminated: Per Texas law, all employers with well water must provide employees with an alternate source of drinking water. Following the law and providing bottled water does not mean that the well water is contaminated. It’s not. Yet this situation has been misrepresented and misreported to the media in order to support more of PETA’s claims.

In regards to the tropical birds at Primarily Primates: Unfortunately, self-plucking by birds is fairly common as they are meant to live in flocks and fly — two experiences they are typically denied when purchased as pets. The isolation and confinement can cause deep-seated frustration, resulting in loud and long screeching, aggressiveness, destructiveness, self-plucking of feathers and self-mutilation. The macaw in your photo and description was abandoned at PPI due to this plucking habit in the first place. This macaw, Apache, was a pet of Nicole, an owner who was unable to spend time with Apache. She had also moved to a new apartment and Apache did not adjust well.

One day when she went in to see him, she saw the feather-plucking behavior and was concerned. She entered his porch-like aviary and Apache attacked her. She was frightened of him ever since but still cared about him. As the feather-plucking got worse, she asked me to take him in because she didn’t want to sell him or see him end up in a bad home. She visited Primarily Primates and when she saw the huge enclosure that would be his home, she asked me to take care of him. Nicole committed suicide a few months later, and he never saw her again. The loss of Nicole along with the change to a new environment was still more hardship on a macaw as sensitive as Apache. Fortunately, Primarily Primates was able to facilitate the design of a parrot aviary large enough to care for birds in need of care, and as a result, Apache was able to be introduced to a new companion.

Apache, though, was far from being rehabilitated. His feather plucking continues to this day and as a result, he sunburns badly (as his skin is pink and thin) and during the winter, he gets too cold. His neurotic feather plucking condition places him in high risk of being harmed whether we keep him indoors or outdoors. Introducing Apache to a new companion was what he needed to start a new life; and I had promised Nicole that I would take care of Apache for the rest of his life. Now thanks to PETA’s and the Attorney General’s ignorance of the reality of this bird’s individual circumstances, Apache was removed from Primarily Primates, and whether he is alive or not I do not know.

PETA would have people believe that all the animals live in poorly designed enclosures. But as you already know, many of the animal enclosures have ropes, climbing structures, trees, and toys; in numerous natural spaces, whole trees grow within an enclosure. Some of Primarily Primates’ enclosures are so big that some highly funded zoo exhibits cannot compete with them. And two chimpanzee areas were undergoing enhancements just as PETA charged onto the premises.

Already PETA has moved some animals without the consultation or agreement of those who know them and their special needs. You have just rounded up horses and shipped them out.

You have not told the public what you are doing and whom you are moving; reports simply appear on the news. Many of the primates require diets which rehabilitators use in order to balance the microflora in their digestive systems. Abrupt changes can put their health at severe risk.

PPI has always tried to help animals to our maximum abilities. Early on, we refused to continue accepting animals from PETA because your organization merely used PPI as a dumping ground for nonhuman beings and turned away from the animals while continuing to fundraise off their stories and photos. So now, it seems, you want to break the sanctuary. By pulling animals out of Primarily Primates, you appear to be trying to liquidate the assets of Primarily Primates. Primarily Primates currently owns over 80 acres of real estate in the Texas Hill country. As reported by PETA, yes, the areas around Primarily Primates are becoming more and more populated. The media and other interested parties might do well to follow the money: is PETA’s true intent simply to end the work of Primarily Primates, destroy and kill, move the high-value animals to institutions, and liquidate what amounts to be 2 to 3 million dollars in land and equipment assets of Primarily Primates? What financial arrangements have PETA worked with all parties — lawyers, paralegals, government, temporary employees etc. — since descending on PPI?

Do you plan to make a public accounting of them?

Very truly yours,

Stephen R. Tello

Interim Executive Director
Primarily Primates