The president of Friends of Animals returned to the East Coast today from the Texas proceedings that will determine the future of the country’s most long-lived private sanctuary for nonhuman primates.

Said Priscilla Feral, “There’s an ominous trend affecting the sanctuary movement, especially with nonhuman apes: By a law signed in 2000, with the help of private donations, government and research interests are keeping lifetime control over chimpanzees.”
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The future of Primarily Primates will say much about whether the animal-advocacy community will fight to keep true sanctuaries,” added Feral. “We’re committed to that.”

On Friday, 3 November 2006, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin ordered an indefinite stay to halt the appointed receiver’s plans to continue moving primates and other animals out of Primarily Primates, the sanctuary they call home. After an interstate move earlier this year into the sanctuary, two chimpanzees died, overcome by the effects of pre-existing heart conditions.

The emergency stay in support of the sanctuary is connected with an appeal that challenges the receiver’s authority over finances and activities at the refuge.

The appeal notes that the receiver, Lee Theisen-Watt, is not a disinterested party but instead is fronting for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and is unqualified to perform the duties of a receiver and to live up to the position’s ethical standards. Last month, for example, the Court heard how Theisen-Watt had, when claiming competency for the post, falsely sworn to hold a Bachelor’s degree.

Although the post requires attention to the best interest of the refuge and its residents, Theisen-Watt admitted in court to holding at least 10 press interviews during the first two weeks of being appointed. One of Theisen-Watt’s first official acts was to petition the trial court for authority to begin killing the refuge animals — a desire consistent with PETA’s animal-control methods. Although Theisen-Watt’s request was initially granted, Primarily Primates contested that authority, and it was suspended by the trial judge.

Immediately after being appointed as receiver, Theisen-Watt opened the refuge doors to dozens of people affiliated with PETA who in turn took numerous photographs, many of which were deliberately misleading.

“For some time, representations of this refuge have been distributed by people whose first priority seems to be disrupting these animals’ lives, breaking up their home, and even killing them,” Priscilla Feral stated. “The sanctuary has been portrayed in the most negative light, but having toured it myself, I can say that the pictures and criticisms say more about the people circulating them than about Primarily Primates.”

Circulated yesterday (7 November 2006) with the subject line “In My Cell at PPI” were photos described as “taken last week” (thus identified as taken on Theisen-Watt’s watch) and “particularly heart wrenching” according to an accompanying message from an anonymous person purporting to be the photographer. One image is that of an unidentified chimpanzee sitting in a barren room with cockroaches on the wall.

Also under Theisen-Watt’s watch, a chimpanzee named Uriah has sustained serious facial injuries (photos available from Friends of Animals). Uriah was hit by another chimpanzee because PETA’s affiliates ignored a Primarily Primates staffer’s warnings and tossed produce over the top of the enclosures without first taking the sanctuary’s regular safety precaution of distracting the most aggressive ape, Josh, with attractive fruits such as melons and apples.

Regular Primarily Primates staff members have not only had their advice on caretaking ignored, but have been subjected to open hostility.

Uriah is forced, with other chimpanzees, to live in increasingly dirty areas. PETA’s affiliates have been unable to properly maintain an area, a ground-level depression to which the chimpanzees have access, which as of Monday, the 6th of November was filled with water, excrement, urine, and T-shirts that PETA affiliates tossed into the enclosures. The chimpanzees are at risk of illness and infection from slinging these wet and filthy garments around and from fruit particles that fall into the polluted mix.

Primarily Primates is now pressing its case for a trial by jury as soon as possible to clear itself of PETA’s accusations. The representatives of the Attorney General’s office — who nominally filed the suit at PETA’s urgings — have now stated they will not be ready for trial by the assigned date of 8 January 2007.

Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral states: “Primarily Primates has had a great deal of public support. Some of the refuge supporters have been dedicated to Primarily Primates for two decades or more. People who have visited the refuge and many other advocates, too, believe it’s wrong to destroy the refuge, and have asked us to continue working to save it.”

Friends of Animals, headquartered in Darien, Connecticut, has been a global leader in animal- rights advocacy since 1957.