Ex-lab caretaker hopes to save what remains of Wild Animal Orphanage

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2011:

SAN ANTONIO–Wild Animal Orphanage is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy,  but maybe,  Primates Incorporated founder Amy Kerwin hopes,  the million dollars worth of real estate,  two million dollars worth of facilities,  and 160 animals who remain at the 17-year-old sanctuary can be kept within the sanctuary community.

A former laboratory monkey caretaker,  recently employed in financial services,  Kerwin has for seven years sought to raise funds to start a retirement home for former lab primates,  often speaking and writing in opposition to invasive primate research and keeping monkeys as pets.  Her attempt to save what can be saved of Wild Animal Orphanage “is actually a team effort of several organizations,”  she told ANIMAL PEOPLE,  undertaken  “because 160 animals,”  of 297 at the sanctuary when the board voted in September 2010 to dissolve,  “could not be placed in reputable sanctuaries. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries will do the fundraising to purchase the land and run the sanctuary for one year,”  Kerwin anticipated.  “The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been footing the bill  to make sure the animals are properly fed and cared for.  The plan is to have Primates Incorporated take over operations,”   following the Wild Animal Orphanage dissolution,  “but nothing is set in stone yet,”  Kerwin stipulated.

The remaining Wild Animal Orphanage animals include 121 macaques,   25 big cats,  five HIV-infected chimps,  and four wolf hybrids.

Currently  the facilities remain under the Wild Animal Orphanage board,  headed by Michelle Cryer of San Antonio.  Founders Carol and Ron Asvestas were ousted from the Wildlife Animal Orphanage management in an October 2009 coup d’etat led by their daughter Nicole Garcia,  who was herself ousted in April 2010.  “There is no plan approved by the court at this time,”  Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries executive director Patty Finch told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I can’t tell you what the court will decide,”  Finch said.  “Our role has been limited to fundraising,  which may expand,  and helping interested parties brainstorm possible solutions.”

Carol Asvestas,  who lives beside the oldest of the two Wild Animal Orphanage sites near San Antonio,  told ANIMAL PEOPLE that she had concerns about what might result from the Chapter 11 proceedings, but liked the idea that the property might continue to house the remaining animals.  Wild Animal Orphanage was still in good shape, Carol Asvestas contended to ANIMAL PEOPLE,  when she and her husband were forced out after five years of conflict with board members, volunteers,  and former employees.

Kerwin developed her ambition of operating a sanctuary during five years of employment at the Harlow Primate Lab,  on the University of Wisconsin at Madison campus.  “I assisted with caring for and collecting data from 97 rhesus monkeys involved in three studies,”  she wrote in a 2007 essay for the campus newspaper.  “I came to question the validity of the research and what I had come to believe was a callous attitude among many of the researchers. I began to think about a way for them to live out their lives in peace. I attended night school to obtain an MBA to learn the things I’d need to know,”  leading to the incorporation of Primates Incorporated in 2003,  which has so far been little more than a name and a dream.

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