From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1995:

DILLEY, Texas––On condition of
anonymity, a prominent Texas attorney has
agreed to guarantee the payment of $75,000
due in October to secure the new home of the
South Texas Primate Observatory, a 183-acre
tract near the town of Millet. The Texas
Parks and Wildlife Department meanwhile
denies reports that it authorized hunters to
shoot any snow monkeys who might escape
from the old site at Dilley.
STPO houses a unique free-roaming
troop of snow monkeys whose families have
been studied since 1954. The colony began at
the long-defunct Arashiyama Sanctuary in the
monkeys’ native habitat outside Kyoto,
Japan. But young male snow monkeys tend
to escape from virtually any enclosure to seek
females each spring, and by 1972, residents
of Kyoto were fed up. Slated to be killed,
about 150 of the monkeys were instead airlifted
through an international rescue effort to
their present 58-acre enclosure within the
sprawling Burns Ranch, 60 miles south of
San Antonio.

“They have adapted beautifully,”
says STPO director Lou Griffin, “growing
larger, living longer, reproducing faster, and
learning to live with everything from cactus to rattlesnakes.”
Elaborates Wally Swett of the Primarily Primates
sanctuary, just north of San Antonio, who with partner
Stephen Tello has distributed alerts for Griffin, “In Japan,
snow monkeys live in a mountain pine forest. They are
adapted to the extreme winter climate of the mountains, and
have learned to use natural hot springs” to keep warm.
“When they were moved to Texas, they needed to adapt to a
dry scrub brush habitat. As they are herbivores, this was
originally a challenge, involving entirely novel flora. This
example of relocation and adaptation is invaluable and applicable
to the study of transferring other animal species,” necessary
in some instances to save endangered animals.
Descendants of the original group have been joined
by individual rescue cases, according to Lynn Cuny, who is
involved in the relocation as executive director of Wildlife
Rescue and Rehabilitation, president of the Association of
Sanctuaries (TAOS), and as a member of the board at the
Summerlee Foundation, which has provided some financial
support to STPO for the past five years.
“Vervets, also called African green monkeys, were
introduced to the Japanese snow monkeys in 1981 to see if the
two macaque species could live together,” according to
Griffin’s history of the site. “The vervets came from a laboratory,
and have adapted amazing well to life within a troop of
snow monkeys.”
By 1990 it was evident that STPO might be jeopardized
by a population explosion. Yet neutering the monkeys
could put the integrity of the behavioral experiment at risk,
by interfering with the formation of families. Deciding to
move, Griffin found the Millet property and over the past six
years paid $60,000 of the $135,000 purchase price.
However, with only 600 donors supporting STPO,
and now 600 monkeys to feed, Griffin fell behind on the payments.
With expensive macaque-proof fencing to be built at
the new site, plus moving costs, she was still $200,000
from her goal when the seller of the new site threatened
foreclosure if the balance wasn’t paid within 30 days.
But that was only half of Griffin’s problem.
According to Swett, the problem that hit the headlines
began with a prospective heir to part of the Burns Ranch,
who wants to subdivide and sell it. STPO, which pays no
rent, is a potential obstacle. This person, Swett says,
leaned on public officials, suggesting first that the STPO
monkeys might contract and spread rabies, since STPO is
within the vicinity of the south Texas coyote rabies outbreak.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Mark
Johnson requested information on diseases that macaques
might carry from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta. The CDCP sent him a list of 200 diseases
they might contract, somewhat a different matter, since
the macacques couldn’t carry diseases to which they hadn’t
been exposed. On the list was the Ebola virus. The matter
reached the media coincidental with the spring release of two
popular books and two films pertaining to Ebola outbreaks,
just ahead of the outbreak in Zaire that killed 226 people and
touched off global panic.
On March 23, Johnson wrote to Texas Parks and
Wildlife stating that the monkeys, protected as members of a
threatened species since 1976, were no longer covered by the
current reading of the Endangered Species Act. Accordingly,
said Johnson, the Department of the Interior “relinquished
any jurisdiction over the STPO-owned monkeys,” and
“wishes Animal Damage Control luck in removing them.”
A routine USDA Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service visit on June 6 found the STPO perimeter
fence seriously deficient because it is no longer electrified.
Since the hairy feet of snow monkeys protect them from electrical
current, Swett and Cuny––who rarely agree about anything––agree
that this finding was essentially academic.
But three days later, Griffin recounted, “We had a
very unusual inspection,” including representatives of the
“Fish and Wildlife Service, several branches of Texas Parks
and Wildlife, two divisions of the USDA, the Texas
Department of Health, the Texas Animal Health
Commission, the University of Texas Health and Science
Center School of Public Health, Texas Animal Damage
Control, and several ranchers. They toured both sites, the
old and the new, and then a meeting was held in Dilley. The
tone was very grim.”
On June 23, said Swett, “Nongame program director
Matt Wagner of Texas Parks and Wildlife sent a report to
Bob Cook,” director of the agency, which “admitted that
TPWD had no jurisdiction over STPO,” but purportedly stated
that “game wardens will be informing the public that freeroaming
monkeys may be shot by anyone who either has a
hunting license or feels they are a threat or causing damage.”
The monkeys were said to be wandering as far as
Corpus Christi, 80 miles away.
Policy toward the monkeys was on the TPWD public
meeting agenda for August 30. “After an Academy Award
performance by Ms. Lou, plus the unexpected support of
TPWD Commissioner Dick Heath, the monks will not be
shot on sight,” reported Austin animal rights activist Gil
Gilleland on the Internet. “Rather, STPO will be notified,
and they will be allowed to send a vehicle to return any straying
monk to his family,” as in the past. But Gilleland’s posting,
accurate according to TPWD, had less impact than the
September 2 Dallas Morning News a n d New York Times
headlines: “Animal rights groups angered by decision to
allow hunting monkeys in South Texas,” and “Killing of
monkeys approved.” Both papers quoted Wagner’s June 23
Explained TPWD in a position statement distributed
in response to outcry, “STPO and their supporters mistakenly
believed TPWD had declared a season on monkeys, or
removed protection. We are not advocating that anyone harm
the monkeys. We are concerned that the monkeys are unconfined,”
the statement continued. “The best solution is for the
facility to gain control of its animals and reconfine them.”
The uproar did have the effect of rallying previously
little-tapped public support for STPO, which both Swett and
Cuny quickly moved to put to work, as each accused the
other––as usual––of dastardly self-interest. While Primarily
Primates produced updated literature for Griffin, and
approached potential high donors on her behalf, Cuny said
she had offered to help the STPO board develop greater
fundraising expertise, and was working on a contraception
plan that would include vasectomizing some male
macaques while using oral contraceptives to inhibit pregnancy
among the females without completely halting reproduction.
Chris and Mary Byrne of the Fund for Animals’
Black Beauty Ranch also pitched in to lend a hand with
securing the new STPO site.
“We’ll be sending money, too, of course,” said
Fund president Cleveland Amory, “and Sean Hawkins,” a
Fund representative in Houston who also coordinates the
movements of the Spay-Neuter Assistance Project van in
Houston, “will make the neutering van available to STPO,
if it’s needed, when it’s appropriate.”

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