Exterminator called to Primarily Primates

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:
SAN ANTONIO–The messy plight of the Primarily Primates
sanctuary reportedly became messier still in early December 2006, to
the point that PETA-backed, state-appointed receiver Lee
Theisen-Watt called in ABC Pest & Lawn Services on December 13 to
kill rats, mice, and cockroaches.
“ABC is proud to be able to take on this project for free as
our holiday gift to the community,” said ABC general manager Mark
“It was probably the worst roach infestation I’ve ever
seen,” Ambrose later told Chicago Tribune correspondent Howard Witt.
“Cockroaches carpeted the floors and walls of some animals’
sleeping houses.” wrote Witt, “Rats had colonized others.”

Responded Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral,
whose organization agreed to absorb Primarily Primates as a
subsidiary just days before the Texas Office of the Attorney General
seized the sanctuary and put Theisen-Watt in charge, “I’m not
freaked out by mice. If you have lots of food, rodents are
attracted. And the roaches–it’s not odd that they are there. They
are part of nature.”
During the 28 years that founder Wally Swett headed Primarily
Primates, pest control was done mainly by domestic fowl, cats, and
dogs who had the run of the sanctuary. Within two weeks of
Theisen-Watt’s arrival, however, the Houston SPCA removed the dogs,
plus 78 chickens, 22 turkeys, and 20 peacocks who had been what
Swett called his “insect control staff.”
As the separate species did not mingle, Swett explained to
ANIMAL PEOPLE on several different occasions, keeping multiple
flocks ensured that multiple areas were being patrolled and pecked
clean at all times.
“The state charges that Primarily Primates was chronically
understaffed, leading to deplorably filthy conditions,” such as
“raw sewage collecting in a cesspool near several chimp enclosures,”
reported Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle.
Responded Stephen Tello, Swett’s longtime assistant, and
successor for the few weeks between Swett’s retirement in September
2006 and the state takeover, “Texas environmental officials visited
and, after making a few changes, found our method of waste disposal
complied with state and local regulations.”
Tello and Feral were found in contempt of court in early
December for allegedly withholding Primarily Primates’ mailing list
from Theisen-Watt.
“As part of the court order,” wrote Brian J. Foster of the
Darien News-Review, “Feral must return all money received from
Primarily Primates’ donors in response to her fund-raising letter
dated October 30, 2006 to the Travis County Probate Court in Austin,
Texas.” The money will be turned over to Theisen-Watt.
“Feral was also ordered by the court to turn over all
Primarily Primates donor lists, passwords or computer records to
Theisen-Watt,” Foster added. “However, Feral is still allowed to
raise money on behalf of Friends of Animals to aid Primarily
“Friends of Animals stepped in to enable us to legally defend
our sanctuary,” said Tello. “While we’ll abide by the orders of the
court, we note that these proceedings were carried out simply
because we did what under normal circumstances would be our proper
work: asking Primarily Primates’ donors to help us survive as a true
“We haven’t been able to take in all animals,” Tello
acknowledged, “but once in our refuge, animals have been safe from
being used further or killed-the very point of a sanctuary. Yet one
of the first official acts of the temporary receiver was to petition
for permission to start killing.
“When an operation like PETA rolls into town with its
well-funded public relations machine, it’s hard to fight back,”
Tello noted.
For example, PETA spokespersons were quoted in many news
accounts of the rodent and cockroach infestation, but ANIMAL PEOPLE
was the only periodical to mention the roles of the chickens,
turkeys, and peacocks, removed six weeks before ABC was called.
PETA spokespersons also have made much of the deaths of two
of nine chimpanzees in early 2006, soon after their arrival at
Primarily Primates from Ohio State University, but Feral and FoA
legal director Lee Hall on December 8 listed the unpublicized deaths
of a squirrel monkey, a white-handed gibbon, and a spider monkey
during the seven weeks since Theisen-Watt’s arrival, along with
injuries and illnesses afflicting a chimpanzee, a ring-tailed lemur,
and a howler monkey, and two alleged instances of small monkeys
being stolen, one of whom was later returned.

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