Homes still needed for animals left by the dissolution of Wild Animal Orphanage

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July/August 2011:


SHREVEPORT,  SAN ANTONIO–Bob Barker,  the retired longtime host of The Price Is Right television game show,  has donated $230,000 toward the cost of relocating five former laboratory chimpanzees who had been exposed to HIV infection from the bankrupt Wild Animal Orphanage sanctuary near San Antonio,  Texas,  to Chimp Haven,  near Shreveport,  Louisiana.

“A team from Chimp Haven will go to Texas in late July to do health and behavioral assessments on each of the chimpanzees in anticipation of a move to our facility in August,”  Chimp Haven national advancement director Karen Allen told ANIMAL PEOPLE.   At Chimp Haven,  Allen said,  the chimps “will live in a social group in an outdoor habitat and get nutritious meals, full-time veterinary care, daily behavioral enrichment, and compassionate care.  It is the least that we can do for them.”

$170,000 of Barker’s donation will fund building the chimps’ new quarters.  The remainder includes covering the cost of the chimps’ care during their first year at Chimp Haven.

Many other animals left in limbo by the legal dissolution of Wild Animal Orphanage more than 10 months ago still have no new homes,  Gobal Federation of Animal Sanctuaries executive director Patty Finch confirmed to ANIMAL PEOPLE on July 6,  2011.  Finch has been closely monitoring the situation,  trying to help Wild Animal Orphanage attorney William R. Davis to find animal placements.

Two hundred ninety seven animals remained on the two Wild Animal Orphanage premises on August 31,  2010,  when directors Suzanne Straw,  Michelle Cryer,  and Chris Smith on August 31,  2010 unanimously voted to dissolve the 17-year-old sanctuary,  one of the largest in the world,  after two changes of management in less than a year.  Founders Carol and Ron Asvestas were ousted in an October 2009 board coup d’etat led by their daughter Nicole Garcia,  amid financial stress following years of allegations of mismanagement made to news media and the Texas Office of Attorney General by former volunteers and donors.  Clashing with several of the then-board members over tactics and priorities,  Garcia was terminated on April 30,  2010.

Wild Animal Orphanage was next managed temporarily by volunteer Jamie Cryer,  husband of board member Michelle Cryer.

The Texas Office of Attorney General,  USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service,  and International Fund for Animal Welfare agreed in September 2010 to supervise the transfer of the animals and liquidation of Wild Animal Orphanage to pay outstanding creditors. The animals were to have been relocated within 60 days.

“Eleven chimps went to Save the Chimps,  with no endowment [for their upkeep].  The baboon is going to the Born Free Primate Sanctuary,”  Finch told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “I think one of the tigers has been placed,”  Finch added.

“There are some facilities thinking about the monkeys and tigers,   but A-list spots seem pretty full. Even a promised endowment based on the anticipated selling price of the Wild Animal Orphanage land may not help.  Ultimately Wild Animal Orphanage needs the court’s permission for any transfers they propose,”  Finch noted.  This inhibits quick transfers,  but helps to keep animals away from unsatisfactory destinations.

“The tigers are a real challenge,”  Finch said.  “Two tigers have medical issues and are old,  and will probably need to  be euthanized for humane reasons before summer’s end.  I think a very reputable sanctuary is taking the macaques,  but details are still being worked out.  There is a party offering to take the wolf dogs,  which will give them acreage. I’m also going to contact the caregivers about their plans for the feral cats at WAO.  They should not be forgotten,”  Finch added.

Several proposals have been floated which would turn over the Wild Animal Orphanage animals and assets to other nonprofit organizations,  but “We could find no existing sanctuary or nonprofit which wished to take on the financial responsibility for taking over Wild Animal Orphanage in this economy,  plus funds would have to have been raised to pay off some of the creditors,”  Finch said.

Carol and Ron Asvestas filed a claim as creditors which,  if successful,  would have returned the seven-acre original Wild Animal Orphanage location to them.   However,  though they were acknowledged as creditors owed a lesser amount,  their claim for the land was dismissed by the bankruptcy court,  Finch said.

Kerwin plan failed

The most ambitious plan for the former Wild Animal Orphanage, advanced in December 2010 by Primates Incorporated founder Amy Kerwin,  would have transferred the remaining assets of the sanctuary to Primates Incorpor-ated,  which would have continued to operate it as a sanctuary.

A former laboratory monkey caretaker,  recently employed in financial services,  Kerwin had sought since 2003 to raise funds to start a retirement home for former lab primates.  Among the 160 animals left on site in December 2010 were 121 macaques from former lab colonies,  plus the chimps who are now going to Chimp Haven.

Kerwin hoped to relocate from Wisconsin to San Antonio to personally supervise operations.  But the Kerwin plan was rejected by the Texas Office of Attorney General.

“We obviously didn’t have a track record to show that we had operated a sanctuary before,  because we were a start-up.  I don’t think that sat well with others involved in the planning,”  Kerwin told ANIMAL PEOPLE.

Clock is running

Time may be running out for finding arrangements satisfactory to all parties.  “IFAW funding has made it possible for Wild Animal Orphanage to stay afloat for almost a year now,”  Finch said,   “but they started a new fiscal year on July 1,  and there are no funds for continuing to support the operations at WAO.   WAO has some bequests, that I think the Office of Attorney General may let them access to keep the place afloat. They still manage to get some donations.  I don’t think it will be a problem,”  Finch hoped.  “But they can’t go on much longer,  as the bankruptcy court wants this wrapped up.  I believe the court will be setting a final deadline for end of September.

“As I understand it,”  Finch continued,   the property is up for sale.  I imagine the proceeds will go toward paying those with preferred creditor status,  for example the IRS for worker’s compensation,  and back wages owed to current employees.  But [the anticipated sale price] is not likely to be enough to even cover what is due the IRS.  I believe early in July some creditors will be petitioning the bankruptcy court to take back equipment,”  Finch added,  “which I would guess would make it more difficult for the animals to be cared for.”

The Texas Office of Attorney General has not allowed the use of bequests to Wild Animal Orphanage to pay off creditors,  which could have permitted a more lucrative return from the sale of the land.

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