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Primates in Peril

The indoor chimpanzee cage at Amarillo Wildlife Refuge (AWR) was an underground cement pit that resembled a dungeon. Our investigator was appalled when, on her very first visit to AWR, she saw piles of rotten food and feces swarming with flies and maggots in the chimps depressing cell. Over time, she found out that this was the usual state of affairs at AWR. The chimpanzees, including one who Azzopardi claims appeared in a remake of Planet of the Apes, spent their days staring at the walls, lying on a garbage-strewn metal resting platform, or screaming and fighting with one another because of the unnatural and stressful conditions.

Edith Click here to see the real enclosure.

Walter is an 11-year-old chimpanzee who has been at AWR since he was 9 years old. Evidence indicates that Walters name before coming to AWR was Bucky, and at the time of PETAs 1994 investigation into animal supplier Buckshire in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, he was just 2 years old. Bucky was born in 1992 at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) at New York University. LEMSIP had an ugly habit of giving babies to Buckshire in exchange for using other Buckshire chimpanzees for breeding and testing. LEMSIP tore Bucky from his mother and gave him to Buckshire and from there, at 7 months of age, he was given to a tawdry traveling photo business run by a Florida couple. Bucky was returned to Buckshires basement laboratory cages when he was 2 years oldthats when PETAs investigator videotaped Bucky rocking ceaselessly from loneliness and the trauma of losing his mother.

PETAs investigation resulted in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sanctions against Buckshire for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Two of those violations resulted from keeping chimpanzees in cages that did not meet the 5-foot-by-5-foot minimum size (imagine living in an area that size for decades!) and Buckys obviously sorry mental state. After the USDA sanctions, Buckshire sold many of the chimpanzees held in its basement. Bucky was among them. It took several years for PETA to pick up on Buckys trail, but we found him at Steve Martins Working Wildlife, an animal dealer and exhibitor in California who trains exotic animals for commercials and movies. (Click here to read the story of Buckys sad life as featured in PETAs Fall 2000 Animal Time.) And thats where the trail ended until our investigation of AWR, where we found Bucky once again, having been handed off to yet another miserable place. Our investigator visited Martins animal-training camp in California after leaving AWR. She observed two tiger cubs who she was told had been born at AWR and turned over to Martins Working Wildlife to be trained to be animal stars. They were on chains held by two women who confirmed that Walter and Bucky were one and the same.

gibbon baby The information on AWRs Web site changes frequently, but heres what the front page of Azzopardis Web site said about Walter/Bucky last summer: Walter, a 9-year-old chimpanzee, also lives at the refuge. He was only one of the many animals adopted by the refuge when their owners no longer wanted them as pets. Heres what Azzopardi said about Walter/Bucky on the Web sites bio page (he couldnt even get his lies straight): Youve probably seen him in a few Hollywood movies but now Amarillo is his home. Walter was a sitcom star in Germany and he spent two years performing in Public Broadcast System shows for children. Actor Steve Martin was one of his supporters. When Walter retired from show biz he was given to a traveling petting zoo. He lived in a small cage, four foot by thirty inches across and three feet high. Charlie Azzopardi then bought Walter and brought him to Amarillo where he lived in Charlies garage while his new home was built at the Amarillo Wildlife Refuge.

Among other unfortunate rescues at AWR was an overweight chimpanzee named Alex, who suffered from a chronic cough and infected wounds that oozed green pus. Alex died suddenly in August 2003, but Azzopardi didnt even bother to have Alexs body examined to determine the cause of his death so as to rule out diseases that might be contagious to the other chimpanzees. Alex is the lucky one. Bucky/Walter may have many more decades of misery ahead of him if he is not removed from AWR.

Our investigator also saw capuchins, spider monkeys, and gibbons living in tiny, filthy enclosures that were swarming with insects, where clouds of flies and wasps contaminated their food and made it inedible. Like the chimpanzees, all these primates were forced to eat a deficient diet of dog food that Azzopardi got through donations from a local business, even though he drives a Mercedes, owns a private plane, and lives in a beautiful house. (Click here to see Charlie's car and house.)

Although federal law says that primates must be provided with psychological enrichment, the mental anguish of a capuchin named Delilah manifested itself in a self-injurious behavior known as hair plucking. As for the required psychological enrichment, our investigator was told that entries in the primate-enrichment log book (which must be presented to the USDA during inspections) were fabricated.

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