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Primarily Primates Seized

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on October 23rd, 2006

The facility that is the home of Oliver, the famous once-bipedal chimp, was seized by the Texas Attorney General’s office on Friday the 13th of October. I detailed the plight of Oliver and the other animals there at Primarily Primates here on Cryptomundo back in May.

From last Sunday’s San Antonio Express-News:

At one time, Primarily Primates was a sanctuary for some of America’s greatest pioneers in science: chimps subjected to sleep deprivation, arthritis studies or brain tests, all part of experiments touted for the good of humankind.

But nearly three decades after its founding, the refuge looks nothing like the animal retirement home whose managers once counted game show host Bob Barker and Walt Disney Productions among its donors.

Now the shriek of animals and the smell of urine fill the air. There is no septic system on the property and the heating system doesn’t work, according to officials close to what has become a controversy there.

Most primates sleep on hard concrete and stare out between the bars of their cages, packed together on property that is still concealed from its residential neighbors in far Northwest Bexar County behind the thick Hill Country foliage.

Circumstances at the facility came to light Friday after the Texas attorney general’s office placed the site under court-ordered management. State officials cited the deplorable conditions and mismanagement of donations.

"That was these animals’ lucky day," said wildlife preservationist Lee Theisen-Watt, named receiver of Primarily Primates.

She will oversee the site and determine how best to rehabilitate it.

Hopefully, the animals there at the facility will see some better days ahead.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.


23 Responses to “Primarily Primates Seized”

  1. MrInspector responds:

    Let’s hope Ms. Theisen-Watt can turn this thing around.

  2. joppa responds:

    Where’s PETA when it really matters, instead of stalking celebrities in furs they should be at the forefront of this type of case.

  3. joppa responds:

    I stand corrected, PETA has this as their lead story on their web site.

  4. Sky King responds:

    I’ve long thought there’s something in Oliver’s story that’s reminiscent of the story “Flowers for Algernon”, by Daniel Keyes. I guess we’ll never know Oliver’s true story.

  5. Labyrinth_13 responds:

    Having followed the case of Oliver with great interest in the past, it is really sad to hear this news. I recall watching a television story sometime ago where Oliver and his former owner were reunited at Primarily Primates. It was a very touching scene.

    I wonder what happened to make the facility go down hill so badly? (I suspect that funding would top the list). Thanks for posting this.

  6. RockerEm responds:

    Mismanagement of money sounds like it was the key problem. Those poor creatures. I’m glad they are taking care of them now.

  7. kittenz responds:

    “Flowers for Algernon” … one of the best stories ever written. Keyes expanded the short story to a novel “Charlie” which was also very good, but for sheer heart-wrenching poignancy no other story quite reaches “Flowers for Algernon”.

    This awful situation with Primarily Primates reminds me of a haunting novel: “Jennie” by Douglas Preston. It’s the story of a chimpanzee raised as “one of the kids” by an anthropologist and his family. It is a magnificent novel. Although fiction, every incident is based on real incidents that have occurred among captive chimps.

    In a more cryptozoological vein, there’s a novel, “The Word for World is Forest”, by Ursula K. LeGuin, which explores a world in which chimpanzees have become the dominant form of life on a planet after having been placed there during terraforming millenia before. They develop their own civilization which is wholly within the world-wide forest. Then “Yumens” rediscover the planet and in typical domineering fashion they invade the planet and begin to strip it of its resources, using the “Creechies” as slave labor and treating them as animals. It’s a wonderful, thought-provoking read for anyone who might wonder what our fellow primates might become, if they had a few million more years in which to continue their evolution.

    I hope that the animals at Primarily Primates are allowed to live out the remainder of their lives in the comfort that they deserve. It’s a shame that they were ever allowed to languish in this despicable situation.

  8. kittenz responds:

    It’s awfully easy to get in over your head with animal rescue work, even when you have the best of intentions.

  9. Grant responds:

    Kittenz made me think of another (weird) fictional story, with an imposing title, “Pithecanthropus Rejectus” by Manley Wade Wellman. It’s about a chimp who’s made to evolve by a scientist, but in a way that includes mistreatment. The catch is, that the chimp is the narrator of the story himself, including spelling out the mistreatment. Sort of a twist on “They can’t tell you how they feel.”

  10. YourPTR! responds:

    I’m surprised Oliver is still around considering his living arrangement for the last few years and the fact for a chimp he must be getting on in years. Wasn’t he discovered to be part of a new sub-species of chimp and more of his kind found in the general location of his capture? I’m sure I read something about this somewhere!

  11. MrInspector responds:

    No, Oliver turned out to be just a chimp. At least in genetic terms. West-African, if I’m not mistaken.

  12. YourPTR! responds:

    Yeah, but I’m sure I read somewhere that near where he was originally found they found years later more chimps with his unusual characteristics. I just can’t remember where I saw it.

  13. Ceroill responds:

    MrInspector, yes, Oliver was found to be a West-African chimpanzee. A very unusual individual to be sure, but not a new species. This is indeed a sad day, and I hope that all the animals there find better new homes.

  14. MattBille responds:

    I corresponded for a while with Wallace Swett, the owner at PP, and once published a request for donations in my newsletter Exotic Zoology to accompany a story on Oliver. My impression was that he was a sincere guy who cared about the apes but was being overwhelmed by the challenge he had taken on.

    Matt Bille

  15. Ceroill responds:

    Matt, I got that impression of him too, in an interview or two he gave in shows that talked about Oliver.

  16. youcantryreachingme responds:

    YourPTR! – are you thinking about the gorilla-sized chimpanzees found in the Congo?

  17. kittenz responds:

    Animal rescue is a noble cause, but it is frighteningly easy to get in over your head and be overwhelmed when doing rescue work. Lack of funding, lack of reliable help, lack of space, and most of all, lack of TIME are some of the factors that can lead to a situation like this.

    Anyone who has done animal rescue work for awhile comes to realize that it is way too easy to say “there is always room for one more”, and then realize that there ISN’T room. It is so hard to turn them away, even when you know you should. And lots of people will take advantage of a rescuer’s love of animals and just dump them on you.

    I have been involved in rescue work all my life, and I have faced overwhelming situations at times. I learned the hard way that after the animal is dropped off, the previous owner thinks that their responsibility is finished. Yet that animal has to be housed, fed, and cared for for the rest of its life.

    I rescue (primarily) German shepherds, cats, and reptiles. I take in very few these days because of space and time limitations. I am usually able to place the animals that I rescue into good homes, often after incurring considerable expense in care and medical treatment, not to mention the time and effort it takes to train and socialize them.

    But that is not an option with rescued primates. They need a retirement home rather than a rescue-and-place facility. And many primates, especially apes, have a very long lifespan compared to other animals, so they need long-term care. Imagine the expense of maintaining such a facility!

    They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but I hesitate to condemn Mr. Swett out of hand. That is, unless he deliberately misused funds and allowed the animals to suffer.

    Of course, regardless of Mr. Swett’s intentions, the situation is intolerable and must be corrected immediately. Hopefully the animals will never have to endure a situation like this again.

    I wonder if a foundation will be set up to accept donations and/or allow people to sponsor individual animals?

  18. YourPTR! responds:

    youcantryreachingme – No that’s not what I was thinking about. I can’t remember hearing about gorilla sized chimpanzees?! But maybe that is what it was after all.

  19. Ohio Cryptonut responds:

    I now live in the general area of The Ohio State University. Some of these primates came from a facility here in Columbus. The local media has covered this pretty well. The saddest fact of all, is that the keeper of these animals here warned everyone about this MONTHS before these primates were transferred. No one listened to her and officials from the university treated her like she was one of these animal hording “crazy cat ladies.” What a shame, best football team in the country and that’s seems like all OSU cares about.

  20. Judy Green responds:

    How sad, not only for Oliver, but for all of the other animals and people involved. It was such good news when a good home was found for him after all he had been through and now, this!

  21. lenny responds:

    Just seen a show on national geo called is it real. Oliver and his rescuer wallace swett were on and it looked like they were trying to get a dna sample of oliver to possibly link him to man as a lower human species.

    My observation after the dna conclusively determined oliver as a chimp brought swetts hope for fame and further lucrative funding to the ground.

  22. eleanore responds:

    A friend of mine, a primatologist and primary chimp caretaker, is on her way to the hell hole that is now Primarily Primates. What is being said about the place, all negative, is true and those who were in charge of the animals prior to it’s being seized should all be hung, drawn and quartered. Apparently the OSU chimps have a happier ending at this point than the other hundreds still housed there. We can only hope that there will be room soon at other sanctuaries to take them in so that they can live out their lives in the comfort and health and dignity they deserve – or that PP can at the least be maintained with volunteer help until better solutions can be found.

    The volunteers there now are angels.

  23. PAPA responds:

    Hello everyone. Here is a little update on PPI. Things are looking real good. Although a few of the animals have been relocated most are still at PPI. Conditions are improving each day. Fresh produce and enreachments start the day. Hay for bedding and blankets are changed regularly. The whole area is being cleaned. A Vet is on the property daily. Thanks to so many good people the entire compound is starting to look like a place for these wonderful creatures to live out their lives in comfort. There is still a lot of work to do but its looking up. Please visit the PPI web site and help in any way you can. I will try do keep you informed on whats going on. There is a lot of legal stuff and “He said/She said” stuff going on but I will NOT go into any of that. Ill just let you know how the creatures at PPI are doing and whats being done for them. If you have any questions please ask them. Ill do my best to answer them all. I am not involved with PPI or any of the other parties involved.



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