Primarily feeling like Noah
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1998:
SAN ANTONIO– – What
happened to Primarily Primates during
the recent Texas flooding?
Secretary Stephen Rene
Tello’s first recollection was that so
many pipes were unearthed and broken
by a flash flood that the sanctuary
had no potable water for a day.
That meant Tello and
Primarily Primates president Wally
Swett had more than 800 thirsty monkeys,
great apes, lemurs, tropical
birds, a wallaby, and assorted other
creatures to haul buckets for.
“It sounds strange that the
animals had no water, when we had
just experienced a two-foot wave
rolling over half the sanctuary, but it
just came through so fast,” Tello
said. “Many of the monkey cages
were inundated with six inches of
packed mud and rocks. The chimp
enclosures nearest our flood control
dam,” which broke, “had a foot and
a half of rock and clay from the dam.
The chimps were slinging tree trunks
and rocks at us.
“That night,” Tello continued,
“more heavy rain came. The
back area by the chimps was like a
river. For the most part they stayed
indoors on their sleeping shelves.
They made no alarm calls, didn’t act
stressed, didn’t even act scared.
Many just sat on their perches looking
at the water. One actually had her
foot in it. I think Wallace and I panicked
Some shelters and sanctuaries
fundraise successfully enough
after disasters to not only rebuild but
expand. But Primarily Primates probably
won’t be among them. Instead,
Tello and Swett expect their postflood
emergency appeal will mainly
exhaust donors who might otherwise
have helped more with the cost of
preparing for the arrival of 30 ex-Air
Force chimps––the first five of whom
were to come December 10.
They were luckiest of the
141 members of the former NASA
colony, the remainder of whom were
turned over to the Coulston Foundation
for use in research, after the
colony was disbanded earlier in 1998.
“First off,” said Tello, “I
didn’t take any photos. I was too
busy locking down enclosures and
checking up on the animals. I know
this sounds like a wasted opportunity,
but I really wasn’t thinking about
photos at the time. I can kick myself
for that now,” Tello added, not least
because Primarily Primates was not
insured against rising waters––an
unlikely kind of disaster for the location,
since the sanctuary is near the
top of a rather steep hill.
The problem, which in
1986 occured to a lesser extent, and
was then considered a fluke, is that
when unusually heavy rain falls
above, the curving paved road in
front of Primarily Primates acts as a
sluice for runoff from three sides.
The quirkiness of the flooding
was illustrated by the different
experiences of Primarily Primates and
Wildlife Rehabilitation and Rescue,
near Bourne, 15 miles north.
“Thanks for asking,”
WR&R founder Lynn Cuny told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, “but our area
really was not hard hit.”
Though on lower ground
than Primarily Primates, WR&R
occupies higher ground than most of
the surrounding ranches––and the
Bourne roads boast ditches deep
enough to swallow whole trucks.
Yet another local sanctuary,
Wild Animal Orphanage, had still a
different experience, said Tello.
“We called Carol Azvestas,”
the WAO founder, Tello said,
“because we needed her dart gun to
move a monkey who was threatened
by the flood. But she was surrounded
by water and unable to leave.”
As ANIMAL PEOPLE
went to press, Swett and Tello were
still reckoning damage likely to
exceed $20,000, including $8,000
worth of repairs to the broken dam.
Built after the 1986 disaster, it was
supposed to prevent this one.
“As to how this affects our
receipt of the Air Force chimps,”
Tello stated, “we don’t see this as a
problem. What it has done is allow
us to recognize the risk if we build
the Air Force chimp enclosures next
to the chimp facilities already here.”
Their preferred alternative
is acquiring additional land.