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Chimpanzees, capuchins, colobus, lemurs, tamarins, baboons, gibbons, howlers, macaques, mangabeys, marmosets... Primarily Primates provides sanctuary for over 600 primates of varying species–many threatened and endangered.

Every one of the animals at the sanctuary has a story; those featured here represent only a few of the lucky ones who would otherwise continue to suffer from abuse, neglect, or be killed as unwanted surplus.

Additional information on the animals at Primarily Primates can be found here.

Yvette, a 35 year-old pigtail macaque, arrived at Primarily Primates in October 2004. Missing her left leg, Yvette lived her entire life alone in an outdoor backyard cage. It's not known how she lost her leg, but it is believed that a dog or wild animal chewed it off during the night. Kept illegally, and discovered by the Corpus Christi Humane Society in Texas, Yvette was seized and taken to Primarily Primates.
(Source: Primarily Primates.)

Oliver Oliver
Oliver walks upright and never knucklewalks like his chimpanzee peers. He is unique in appearance, and his intelligence and personality distinguish him from other chimps, who typically shun him. Oliver displays emotions not normally associated with chimpanzees, but his days on the freak-show circuit and on tabloid covers as the fabled “missing link’’ and “humanzee” are finally behind him, as are seven lost years in a medical research laboratory. In May of 1998, Oliver and eleven other chimps from the Buckshire Corporation were retired to Primarily Primates.

After arriving at the sanctuary, genetic tests revealed that Oliver has 48 normal chimpanzee chromosomes and is a member of the Pan troglodytes troglodytes subspecies from Central Africa (the Central Common Chimpanzee). Before retiring at Primarily Primates, however, Oliver’s life revolved around the sensationalistic exploitation of his unusual characteristics at the hands of his keepers. Oliver was captured in the Congo and brought to America with three other chimps in the early 1970’s. He was acquired as a baby by trainers Frank and Janet Burger, whose animal acts were once regularly featured on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Oliver was shunned by the Burger’s other chimps. While his intelligence and personality set him apart from the other apes, he also displayed emotions not normally associated with chimpanzees, including tears of remorse at temporary separations. As he grew older, Oliver is said to have acquired habits normally enjoyed only by humans, including a cup of coffee and a nightcap.

In 1976, Oliver was sold to New York City lawyer Michael Miller. Hoping to discover more about Oliver's unique characteristics, Miller traveled with Oliver to Japan where Oliver underwent genetic testing. Japanese press and promoters sensationalized the story. Oliver appeared on Japanese television with fraudulent promotions picturing him as a miniature yet hairy human being. Was he a baby bigfoot? A mutant or hybrid chimp? A newly discovered primitive African humanoid? Perhaps an ape-human hybrid? Old news accounts assert that Oliver has 47 chromosomes—one more than a human, one less than a chimpanzee—but recent testing negates that claim.

Miller later sold Oliver, and he passed from animal show to animal show, while performing in occasional television shows and commercials. Oliver eventually ended up with Ken DeCroo, an anthropologist and animal trainer. DeCroo has said that Oliver was unlike any of the hundreds of chimps he had worked with in both research and commercial settings, and claimed that in his experience, Oliver displayed more human characteristics than chimp traits. An interview with DeCroo stated:

“This is the classic example. Very often I would sit him [Oliver] down in the living room with me to drink coffee. And one time he was out of coffee. I never trained him to do this, but maybe he knew it from the past. He got up from the table, walked into the kitchen, picked up the coffee pot, poured coffee into my cup, then into his, and then took the pot back into the kitchen. But here’s the chimp part. He’s making a terrible mess. His brain is telling him what to do, but his body isn’t quite doing it. But he had the awareness. He understood where all the elements fit and that I was out of coffee. It was shocking.’’

DeCroo sold Oliver to Bill Rivers in 1986 with the understanding Oliver would be given a decent retirement. But in 1989, Oliver was sold again—this time to the Buckshire Corporation, a Pennsylvania-based laboratory that leases animals for scientific and cosmetic testing.

According to Buckshire president Sharon Hursh, Oliver showed signs of rough treatment, but was never used for research. “When we got him, we gave him an entrance physical and it was evident to us he’d had a pretty tough life. Somewhere along the line, he must have been a tough chimp. He had scars that indicated rough handling. We basically purchased him for laboratory research but he was never used.”

In May 1998, after seven years at Buckshire, Oliver and eleven other chimps were retired from the Corporation to Primarily Primates. Wally Swett, founder of Primarily Primates, said that after twenty years of exploitation, Oliver has found his final home: “He’s been dragged around and exploited for over 20 years, but this is his final retirement. He’ll never go into research or on exhibit again.’’

(The above information was compiled from various sources including
creatures/olivera.htm and

Punkin Punkin
Born at the Kansas City Zoo in 1976, Punkin was hand raised in their nursery. Male orangutans tend to be solitary in the wild and do not integrate well in grouped facilities. Consequently, when Punkin was very young he was sold to a German animal dealer who sold him to a German zoo. At the zoo, Punkin was dressed in human clothing and greeted visitors.

In 1982 he was sold again to a California animal trainer who used him in movies and television. In the Hanna Barbera production “Goin’ Bananas” Punkin appeared in a jogging suit and red wig. When in 1987 Punkin started biting, he was again sold, this time to a Clifton, Texas roadside zoo, The African Safari. Visitors were told he was Clyde the orangutan who had appeared in the Clint Eastwood movie “Every Which way but Loose”, but he had never performed in that film.

Still prone to biting, Punkin bit the finger of the zoo’s owner, and it was suspected that Punkin was severely beaten. Punkin was housed in a cramped enclosure with no heat, and in 1992 he collapsed from hypothermia.

To save his life, the USDA sent Punkin to the Dallas Zoo where he was diagnosed to be suffering from pneumonia, hypothermia, muscle atrophy and severe urine burns (from lying in his own waste). X rays also revealed injuries to his spine that had healed, causing further suspicion of past beatings. Punkin was nursed around the clock.

Primarily Primates built a special enclosure for Punkin at a cost of $35,000, and after recovering at the Dallas Zoo, Punkin was placed at the sanctuary on May 24, 1992. Then 16 years old, this was Punkin’s last stop.

From the very first day of his arrival, Punkin became very special to the Primarily Primates staff. Not only are orangutans very expressive, they also possess many human-like behaviors and emotions.

In the national media Punkin was filmed at the sanctuary for several PBS and National Geographic specials. Just two days before Punkin died he was filmed for a documentary about The Texas Monkey Project. Punkin passed away peacefully on November 12, 2004. A necropsy revealed he had heart disease, but much like a human, he showed no prior symptoms of his problem.

When Wally passes by Punkin’s enclosure and sees it empty he is heartbroken. Punkin will be sorely missed, but he is now truly free.

(Source: Primarily Primates.)

Willie and Harry
(The "Project X" Chimps)
Born at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, Willie and Harry were among the cast of chimpanzees used in the 1987 film “Project X” (Willie starred as Virgil the Chimp). Ironically, their fate was destined to mirror that of their characters: Willie and Harry were intended to be returned to the laboratory following the completion of their film roles. "Project X" proved controversial, however, as the training methods used with the chimps were harsh and punitive, and one chimpanzee died during filming. Willie and Harry were rescued and now reside at the Primarily Primates sanctuary.

(Source: Various, including



No more monkey business

Most people don't know that the chimpanzee "grin" so often seen in movies and on TV is actually a grimace of fear or a carefully choreographed response to a command. To read more about the abuse suffered by primates used in the entertainment industry, and the alternatives to the use of apes in entertainment, check out www.nomoremonkey

Another worthwhile effort is
The Chimpanzee Collaboratory, a consortium of attorneys, scientists, and public policy experts working toward protecting the lives and establishing the legal rights of chimps and other great apes.