PETA, Friends of Animals clash over future of Primarily Primates

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:
AUSTIN, SAN ANTONIO– Longtime Primarily Primates board and
staff member Stephen Tello, elected president of the sanctuary on
October 25, testified and was cross-examined for more than three
hours at an October 30, 2006 hearing in Austin that may determine
Primarily Primates’ future. The hearing, the first opportunity
Primarily Primates has had to respond to PETA allegations of
mismanagement in a legal forum, was to resume on November 7.
Witnesses supporting the PETA position testified on October
27, cross-examined by a Primarily Primates defense team funded by
Friends of Animals. The Primarily Primates board on August 28
accepted the resignation of former president Wally Swett, who headed
the sanctuary for 28 years, and voted to accept an FoA offer of

PETA director of investigations Mary Beth Sweetland in an
October 17 open letter urged the FoA board to “stop supporting the
suffering of animals” at Primarily Primates, called Swett “an animal
hoarder,” and alleged that “There is no reputable animal protection
group that believes Primarily Primates is a decent place for
animals,” although it has received animals from many prominent
animal advocacy groups and humane societies, as well as from zoos,
laboratories, and private keepers, and has been featured in many
organizations’ membership magazines and newsletters.
Tello responded to Sweetland that Swett has “alcohol
dependency problems,” as separately alleged by PETA, but denied
that this has resulted in any neglect or mistreatment of either
animals or resources. “The staff at Primarily Primates attempt to
care for animals whom the world wants to forget,” Tello wrote,
“including animals PETA has sent to Primarily Primates–although PETA
has not donated a penny in a decade or more to help them. We know we
can’t save them all, but we also believe that we should try to find
animals a home before we pull out the syringes.”
Tello said a clinic at Primarily Primates that was built with
PETA funding about 20 years ago is no longer used, because PETA
refused repeatedly to fund upkeep and repairs. Tello testified that
Primarily Primates provides bottled water for staff as per Texas law,
not because the sanctary well is polluted; that a macaw missing many
feathers was surrendered to Primarily Primates because of his
self-plucking habit; that Sweetland inaccurately described the
Primarily Primates drainage and septic systems; and that “many of
the animal enclosures have ropes, climbing structures, trees, and
toys,” contrary to the appearance of PETA photos showing mostly
indoor ‘nesting box’ accommodations.
Asked Tello, “Is PETA’s true intent simply to end the work
of Primarily Primates, destroy and kill, move the high-value
animals to [other] institutions, and liquidate what amounts to be $2
million to $3 million in land and equipment assets of Primarily
About 200 of the 800 animals at Primarily Primates before the
October 15 raid were relocated during the next two weeks. The
Houston SPCA took 78 chickens, 37 guinea pigs, 22 turkeys, 20
peacocks, four goats, four dogs, two ponies, and a horse Swett
had kept since his 1978 arrival in Texas. The birds were kept at
Primarily Primates to consume insects, minimizing use of pesticides
on the grounds, and the goats were used instead of lawn mowers.
Houston SPCA executive director Patti Mercer filed a brief in support
of the PETA-led takeover.
If Primarily Primates survives, FoA would manage it much as
the Animal Protection Institute manages the former South Texas
Primate Observatory, also near San Antonio. Lou Griffin, the South
Texas Primate Observatory director for 22 years, is on the Primarily
Primates board, and would be part of the leadership team, Feral
The Austin hearing originated from the October 14 unannounced
seizure of Primarily Primates by agents for the Texas Attorney
General’s Office and Bexar County sheriff’s department, responding
to PETA affidavits. The Texas Attorney General’s office named
wildlife rehablitator Lee Theisen-Watt, of Frisco, Texas, to be
receiver and interim director of Primarily Primates.
Theisen-Watt, a former employee of the Black Beauty Ranch
sanctuary near Tyler, Texas, in 2004 founded an organization called
Advanced Primate Ethical Studies, worked at the Lamar Dixon Expo
Center handling animals rescued from New Orleans after Hurricane
Katrina in September 2005, and is a member of the International
Wildlife Rehabilitators Association board of directors.
The raid came five weeks after Bexar County Civil District
Court Judge Andy Mireles dismissed a PETA-backed lawsuit against
Primarily Primates, and withdrew the appointment of attorney Charles
Jackson III as a special master to oversee care of the seven
surviving chimpanzees and two capuchin monkeys from the research
colony formerly kept by Ohio State University psychology professor
Sally Boysen. OSU retired the colony to Primarily Primates in
February 2006, with an endowment of $324,000 for their quarters and
upkeep, over the objections of Boysen and PETA. Nine chimps arrived
from OSU, but one died from a pre-existing heart condition while
being unloaded. Another died, also from a heart condition, two
months later.
Jackson recommended that the chimps should be relocated to
Chimp Haven, a National Institutes of Health-funded retirement
facility for former lab chimps in Shreveport, Louisiana.
PETA has since 1992 backed repeated efforts by disgruntled
former staff to remove Swett and Tello from Primarily Primates,
beginning soon after Swett criticized PETA for liquidating the
sanctuary it formerly operated at Aspen Hill, Maryland.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.