The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

People Who Own Chimpanzees Re-Think Owning Them

Sandra Herold

Truitt feeds chimpanzees at the Primate Rescue Center near Nicholasville, Ky., on Feb. 25. " width="245" border="0">

By James Crisp, AP
April Truitt feeds chimpanzees at the
Primate Rescue Center near Nicholasville, Ky., on Feb. 25.

A growing number of pet owners spooked by February's chimp attack are looking to give up their great apes but are finding it difficult to do so.

April Truitt, director and founder of the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, Ky., reports a 50% increase in calls from chimpanzee owners seeking homes for their animals since the mauling in February, which left Charla Nash, 55, in critical condition without her hands, nose, lips, eyelids or facial structure. Since then, a relative of Nash has filed a $50 million lawsuit against chimp owner Sandra Herold.

"I think there's a level of fear (among) primate owners," said Linda Brent, president and director of Chimp Haven, whose sanctuary in Keithville, La., usually receives about 14 requests to take in a chimp in a six-month period. Since the attack, Brent said, 12 owners have called regarding such requests.

Owners of primate pets are usually unprepared for the demands of their animals, Brent said. Many buy them after only minimal research and know little about stimulating the animal's physical, emotional and mental well-being. Few owners are aware of the financial demands either, said Susan Altrui, spokeswoman for the Little Rock Zoo.

Chimps live 50 to 60 years, and lifetime care can cost $750,000, excluding building costs, said Truitt, who started the center to care for her pet chimpanzee and adult monkeys who could no longer be controlled.

"After only six (years), people realize the chimps shouldn't be in their homes anymore," said Diana Goodrich of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Cle Elum, Wash.

Too much to handle

Judie Harrison and her husband, Greg, took out a second mortgage to meet a breeder's $45,000 cash-only demand for a chimp. The couple put 8-month-old Mikey in a playpen, which he climbed out of within half an hour.

Over the next six years, the Harrisons invested $41,000 in three cages for Mikey and Louie, a second chimp they bought. Mikey broke the welded wire of one cage and "peeled it back like it was a tuna can," Harrison said.

An adult chimpanzee can be seven times as strong as an adult human. The Harrisons faced frequent cage repairs because of that strength.

"Mikey would just take the bars of his cage between his thumb and forefinger and squeeze them together, but to put them back in place, my husband would have to use pliers. And my husband's a big man," Harrison said.

The Harrisons, who are trained to get a chimp back in its cage with minimal harm to the animal or public, felt they could no longer care for Mikey and Louie. Judie spent six weeks seeking shelter for the chimps. She eventually found a home at the Little Rock Zoo.

Retiring a pet chimp "is something that people need to start on earlier rather than later, because it's just not easy to place chimpanzees," Brent said.

Non-profit sanctuaries face challenges in maintaining enough revenue to support their operations, and many are unwilling to take in more animals unless the owner can offer financial help.

"It used to be that the real battle was to get (pet) owners and biomedical agencies to agree to surrender the chimpanzees," Truitt said. "Now, we have them convinced, but there's not the funding."

With a blank check, all 225 privately owned chimps could be accommodated in the USA's 10 accredited sanctuaries. "It's strictly about money," Truitt said.

Despite their "endangered" status in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists captive chimps as "threatened." This distinction lets biomedical research use the apes, and it allows roadside zoos, breeders and circuses to purchase and sell the chimps to any interested buyer.

Breeders take baby chimps from their mothers days after birth to sell them, Truitt said. "The sooner they're pulled, the more valuable they are," he said, because younger babies bond more readily with pet owners.

'An accident waiting'

Twenty-one states ban the possession of non-human primates, 12 regulate their possession, and 17 have no laws, according to an analysis by Born Free USA, a non-profit animal-advocacy group.

A U.S. Senate committee has taken up the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would prohibit possession of a non-human primate.

"The whole idea of anybody wanting to entertain keeping any wild animal is just an accident waiting to happen," said Carol Asvestas, director of Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio.

At some point, it becomes clear to the pet owner that the animal can no longer be kept safely, Truitt said.

"They turn and look at you, and you know in that instant that the balance of power has shifted," she said.


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