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…..