Primal Troubles

Hill Country primate sanctuary seized

Primarily Primates Inc., the Boerne-area animal sanctuary we profiled extensively in our Damned Dirty Ape issue ("A Better Place," Aug. 5, 2005), was seized under a temporary restraining order on Oct. 13 by the state attorney general's office, acting on a complaint filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Travis County Court Judge Guy Herman appointed wildlife preservationist Lee Theisen-Watt to run the sanctuary temporarily and granted her permission to have animals euthanized or transferred to other facilities if veterinarians deem such actions appropriate. PETA has been pursuing action against the sanctuary since at least last May, when it filed a suit on behalf of seven chimpanzees that had been relocated from an Ohio State University research facility. That suit, which a judge dismissed in September, alleged that the chimps had not received adequate care from the Boerne facility and that their "physical and behavioral well-being" had been endangered.

Rhetoric on both sides has been heated: "Every single day these animals are suffering," Theisen-Watt told the Houston Chronicle regarding the recent seizure, "and that's why we initiated this motion, because to wait another week would be to allow these animals to continue to suffer." In the same Oct. 19 article, Stephen Tello, PPI president and then interim executive director, called the judgment "extremely unfair" and predicted that "hundreds of animals are going to start dying at Primarily Primates." Tello told The Austin Chronicle Wednesday that PETA and the attorney general's office "have tried and convicted PPI, its staff, and its board without due justice," and that animals are now "suffering at the hands of PETA." Tello further stated that he believes property acquisition is the real motivation behind the suit: "We sit on prime Texas Hill Country property," he said. "We're worth $2 to 3 million in land alone. … When they send the animals away, what's going to happen to the land? This has nothing to do with animals – this is a liquidation."

In an open letter to animal advocacy group Friends of Animals, which is providing for PPI's defense, Tello writes that PETA's "plans to kill Primarily Primates' animals rather than providing for their long term care" is "consistent with their past record of animal care." Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral concurs. "[PETA] wants to liquidate the place and send the animals to animal heaven," she said by telephone Wednesday, "and that's what they think animal rights are. … They could afford to help a sanctuary, and instead they plundered it." (Calls to PETA had not been returned at press time.)

Feral was on her way to Austin Wednesday, when PPI was scheduled to be in court to request a venue change to San Antonio; as of press time, a hearing to extend the temporary injunction was scheduled to take place in Travis County probate court at 9am Friday, with Herman once again presiding.

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