Animal Protection Institute fires snow monkey sanctuary founder
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2002:
DILLEY, Texas–Friends of Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary
founding director Lou Griffin, 54, are urging her to seek legal
recourse after Animal Protection Institute executive director Alan
Berger abruptly fired her in a March 5, 2002 telephone conversation
and follow-up e-mail, without stating any cause.
Berger was scheduled to visit the sanctuary on March 28, a
3,000-mile round-trip from the API head office in Sacramento,
apparently to try to extinguish what may be the hottest controversy
to involve API since founder Belton Mouras was ousted in 1985 and
went on to found United Animal Nations with several other former API
ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press several hours before Berger was to arrive.
API officially annexed the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary,
formerly called the South Texas Primate Observatory, on January 1,
2000, and announced the annexation on March 3, 2000.
The sanctuary is the oldest for nonhuman primates in the
United States, and was the first to keep nonhuman primates in
natural troupes in spacious outdoor habitat.
“STPO was looking for an organization they could trust to
take them over,” Berger told ANIMAL PEOPLE in January 2000.
“Legally we purchased their assets,” including taking over
significant debts, “and their nonprofit corporation will be
Legal options open to Griffin may include suing Berger, 55,
and API for alleged age and gender discrimination, and for allegedly
violating the various agreements and understandings that were either
spelled out or implicit in the API takeover.
Griffin served without a written contract, as does Berger,
he told ANIMAL PEOPLE, but International Primate Protection League
founder Shirley McGreal informed Griffin of recent wrongful dismissal
cases in which other written documents were held to have the legal
weight of contracts.
McGreal resigned from the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary
advisory panel in protest of the Griffin firing, and said she had
not been consulted about it.
“I first visited the Snow Monkey Sanctuary in the 1970s when
the monkeys were living in Laredo, Texas,” McGreal told ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “They were imported into the United States in 1972 by Edward
Dryden, who intended to sell their offspring for research. Dryden
died and his widow Clementina allowed the monkeys to continue to live
at the Laredo property. Finally they were moved to Dilley,” to the
property where the South Texas Primate Observatory was located from
1980 to 1997, “and later to the present site,” a 186-acre tract
that the sanctuary bought in 1990 but was unable to secure until
singer Wayne Newton and Dallas attorney Robert “Skip” Trimble led a
fundraising drive in 1995-1996.
“Throughout these decades,” McGreal said, “Lou Griffin has
been the glue which held the monkey colony together. She has made
huge personal sacrifices. The mon keys were part of the Arashiyama
Sanctuary troupe studied since 1954 by Japanese field primatologists.
Geneologies have been kept at both the Japanese and U.S. ends.
“Lou has an extraordinary knowledge of the individual
monkeys,” McGreal continued. “She knows each of them–and their
mothers and grandmothers and ancestors further back than that. They
are her friends. Others have come and gone but Lou was the rock,
always fighting for her monkeys. The monkeys are lucky in that they
are living much as wild monkeys do. They find most of their own
food. Visiting this sanctuary is an incredible experience.
“To fire Lou and, apparently, seek to deny her access to
the animals who are friends and family to her, is really distressing
to me. Lou is an animal–how can the Animal Protection Institute
deprive Lou of her monkey friends and, worse, deprive her monkey
friends of Lou?”
Having given Griffin no reason for termination stated in
writing, neither API executive director Alan Berger nor board
president Gary A. Pike gave ANIMAL PEOPLE any reason for the firing,
either. Board member Kent Robertson, of Dallas, said he knew
nothing about the firing in advance, although he was the board
representative in closest proximity to the sanctuary.
Berger in fact denied that Griffin was fired. “Lou is still
a full-time employee of API,” Berger stated on March 19, “and she
has an opportunity to remain at the Sanctuary in a different but
But the e-mail that Berger sent to Griffin on March 6 gave
Griffin just two options: termination of employment effective on
March 31, or transition to part-time employment, also effective on
March 31, including a reduction of pay to 60% for three months and
then 20% for six months.
“Beginning in 2003,” Berger offered, “we would like to
negotiate a consultative arrangement in which you stay connected to
the sanctuary as an advisor. Future payments would be based on a
specified hourly fee for specific assignments. This would allow you
to consult with the sanctuary and API on mutually agreed upon
“Too many dogs”
Searching for reasons why, Griffin told ANIMAL PEOPLE that
she had wanted more staff, including volunteers and interns, than
API was willing to budget–but not more staff relative to the numbers
of primates than she had tried to maintain when the sanctuary was an
Griffin acknowledged that she has always been a poor
fundraiser. But past correspondence between ANIMAL PEOPLE and both
Berger and Griffin established this was why API took over the Texas
Snow Monkey Sanctuary in the first place: to ally a prestigious but
perennially insolvent program with strong national fundraising
Griffin has been extensively criticized in the past for not
sterilizing all of the Arashiyama Sanctuary macaque troupe, but the
South Texas Primate Observatory as originally formed was meant to
allow primatologists the opportunity to study the full range of
natural primate behavior. In addition, it was already known that
monkey troupes tend to reject and abuse castrated males, while
developing an effective non-reversing method of vasectomizing male
nonhuman primates took decades of improvement in surgical techniques.
Almost every zoo, sanctuary, and laboratory colony has had problems
with self-reversing vasectomization of macaques, baboons, and even
A far more contentious issue, Griffin and others familiar
with the sanctuary told ANIMAL PEOPLE, is that both Berger and Pike
told her that she had taken in too many homeless dogs, although
street dogs and macaques comfortably share habitat throughout
“The dog population had become unmanageable with potential
interference with primate care,” affirmed Berger.
San Antonio primate activist Linda Howard, for whom Griffin
was matron-of-honor at her marriage in 2000, acknowledged to ANIMAL
PEOPLE that the dogs could be rambunctious and intimidating toward
volunteers and newly arrived primates who were not yet bonded into
But Howard was bluntly contemptuous of any use of the
presence of the dogs to rationalize firing Griffin. In the first
place, Howard pointed out, Griffin had socialized and placed for
adoption through volunteers about 40 of the 60 dogs who lived at the
sanctuary when API took over, leaving just 20. In the second place,
Howard said, the dogs are not able to physically attack the monkeys.
Further, Howard added, the dogs are now confined, no longer able
to roam the grounds as some of them formerly did.
Finally, Howard emphasized, API is the Animal Protection
Institute, and dogs are also animals.
Howard also pointed out that the macaques in the main 65-acre
Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary enclosure have attracted, adopted, and
befriended about 20 feral cats (all now sterilized) on their own.
The macaques groom the feral cats, Howard said, and do not allow
humans or dogs to approach them in a potentially threatening manner.
Primarily Primates president Wally Swett had a similar response.
“Dogs roaming the grounds at a nonhuman primate sanctuary are
a good thing,” Swett opined. “They know their territory. If a
monkey is trying to get over a fence or someone is trying to break
in, or anything else is wrong, they let you know.”
While trying to secure the present site near Millet and move
from the previous location, Griffin kept some macaques in a
five-acre enclosure at the present site–and had no dogs there.
Escapes were a constant problem, leading to the Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department in 1995 briefly declaring open season on monkeys
found at large.
“Better fencing funded by a Wayne Newton benefit concert and
a lot of work by Skip Trimble was the biggest factor in stopping the
escapes,” Swett told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “But Lou moving in there with
the dogs should not be overlooked. Dogs learn the order of things in
a hurry, and even strays who have only been somewhere a couple of
days will tell you if something is wrong.”
Swett and Primarily Primates secretary Stephen Tello both
told ANIMAL PEOPLE that they support Griffin 100%.
Wrote Swett to API president Gary Pike, “Lou Griffin has
been the one who for almost three decades has cared for this group of
monkeys. I have known her for over 20 years. Lou has singlehandedly
saved those monkeys on many occasions and been there for them. There
is no one in the country who knows more about their species, or
about those individual monkeys. As I understood” the API takeover,
“API was to undertake the administrative tasks and free Lou to do her
animal care work.
“I know that an employee of only a year and and half has had
criticism of Griffin,” Swett said, referring to sanctuary manager
Tom Quinn, who was away due to a death in his family just before
Griffin was fired, “and that [API southwestern representative] Don
Barnes, who I know cannot tell one species of monkey from another,
has been consulted. Please consider discussing with Alan Berger
his wrong decison.”
Barnes was for 16 years a research psychologist whose
experiments on chimpanzees reputedly inspired the 1985 Matthew
Broderick film Project X. He was a field office representative for
the National Anti-Vivisection Society from 1981 to 1996, and has
represented API since then.
Griffin confirmed–after ANIMAL PEOPLE heard about it from
others–that she recently told Barnes, in the presence of Berger and
Quinn, to stop misusing sanctuary visiting privileges to impress
Swett said he clashed with Barnes for the same reason about
10 years earlier. Barnes subsequently supported a series of
attempted hostile takeovers of Primarily Primates. Attorney and
advocate of rights for nonhuman great apes Steven Wise initially
represented Primarily Primates in refuting allegations brought
against Swett by disgruntled ex-staff in 1992, but later amplified
the same allegations himself after Primarily Primates requested an
audit of his bill, which was $40,000 more than anticipated.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in December 2000
suspended Wise from legal practice for six months for alleged
Asked about Barnes’ role, Berger said, “He has a very
part-time role helping at the sanctuary. He sometimes helps with
some physical labor. He researched both our algae problem in one of
the ponds, and surveyed produce distributors to get us better deals
on produce. This past year he has had very little connection,”
Berger insisted, “except to help out with adoptions of the stray
“You and others may think what you will about API’s
management of the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary, but you are inquiring
about a personnel matter and nothing more,” fumed API president
Pike. “There is absolutely, positively no subterfuge in API’s
management of its staff at the sanctuary. If you think we acquired
the sanctuary as a public relations ploy to bolster the API image or
to steal it away from Lou Griffin, you are seriously misguided.
These animals had no future without API. Now they do! Our only
motivation,” Pike claimed, “was to save the 400 animals’ lives and
provide them a comfortable future when no one else would. Hopefully,
we will be able to rescue many more primates in need of sanctuary
because of our professional management of the situation.
“As you know, the Animal Protection Institute was the only
organization to step up and save the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary from
imminent collapse over two years ago,” Pike continued. “We have
invested many hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade the
infrastructure of the facility and provide adequate staff to care for
the animals. We continue to commit a significant annual budget for
its proper operation. We have developed a professional sanctuary
policy and procedure manual which is now available to other sanctuary
organizations in hopes of assisting them to be as successful as
possible. We are working to minimize births within the current
population through vasectomization of the adolescent males so that in
the future we can provide sanctuary to more animals.
“API has continued to rescue dozens of primates in need of
sanctuary at great cost since we have acquired this troubled
organization,” Pike concluded. “I truly would like to tell you
‘like it is’ in this situation, but legal restraints regarding
confidential personnel matters and my professional discretion to save
gross embarrassment for those involved prohibit that discussion.
Please direct all future inquiries to Alan Berger.”
“I hardly think that this event is very newsworthy,” Berger said.
But when Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokespersons
said the same thing about their efforts to separate Lou Griffin from
the snow monkeys, back in 1995, they soon found themselves
questioned not just by ANIMAL PEOPLE and Best Friends, who were
first on the story, but also by the Dallas Morning News and The New
Griffin was apparently the oldest female employee of API and
certainly the most prominent, after the never clearly explained
March 2001 departure of former API program coordinator Dena Jones,
48, who was the most highly paid female employee. ANIMAL PEOPLE
received conflicting accounts from Berger and other informed sources
as to whether Jones left voluntarily; Jones herself has never
responded to inquiries.
There appears to be only one woman on the current API board.
Of the eight listed directors, longtime Griffin ally Robert Trimble
left the board before Griffin was fired, to become president of the
Animal Legal Defense Fund. Trimble did not comment to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Allegations of age and gender discrimination brought against
API–or any animal advocacy group–have potential for strong
resonance with donors. Demographic studies of the animal advocacy
donor base show that approximately 80% of all the money fueling the
cause is given by women over age 40, and about half the money is
given by women over age 50. If the API donor base of circa 85,000
people is typical, about 68,000 are women age 40 or older. Women in
40-plus age range–in all occupations–are the most likely to report
having encountered age-and-gender-related discrimination in the
workplace, and to identify with an alleged wrongful firing.
Only one age-and/or-gender discrimination lawsuit brought
against a prominent animal protection group has been fought in open
court, so far as ANIMAL PEOPLE knows, although several such cases
have been settled out of court or remain pending. Ten years after
accusing the Massachusetts SPCA of gender-based discrimination,
Marjorie C. McMillan, DVM, in July 1999 collected a $428,000
settlement: $150,000 in back pay, plus interest.
Like Griffin, who began working with the Texas snow monkeys
as a university student volunteer, McMillan was a student volunteer
when hired by the MSPA. Also like Griffin, she was a 21-year paid
employee when fired.