Terry the chimpanzee has lived the last 17 years of his life as the only chimp at the Las Vegas Zoo. On October 2nd, however, he began the trip of a lifetime across the country to his new Florida home at Save the Chimps, the biggest chimpanzee sanctuary in the U.S.
This sudden and miraculous change in Terry’s life came about in the blink of an eye. It was sparked by the astonishing walkout in late September of every zookeeper employed by the much maligned Las Vegas Zoo.
A Zoo So Bad the Staff Had to Walk Out
The Las Vegas Zoo was a privately owned facility belonging to Pat Dingle. It is reported to have housed 150 animals on a cramped three-acre facility. For years, the zoo just skated by. It fielded citations and fines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the City of Las Vegas, as well as complaints from animal welfare activists, while barely maintaining the minimum standards necessary to keep the zoo operational.
In September, the animal caretakers finally had enough. Early in the month, Animal Care Manager Jeannie Atkins quit the zoo. Within two weeks of her departure, the rest of the zookeeping staff also reluctantly left. Reportedly, they simply could not stomach the way the zoo’s owner refused to allow them to properly care for the animals.
“When you look the USDA in the eye as an animal care manager and agree with them and say I want to do that and then you can’t, now you gotta start questioning your integrity,” Akins told KNTV News.
Following the departure of the staff on Friday, September 20th, the USDA received a formal complaint about the zoo. No one knew if the animals were being fed, since there was no staff left to do it. Officials from the USDA and the City of Las Vegas Animal Control showed up at the zoo the following Tuesday, September 24th.
According to KTNV TV, owner Pat Dingle received an ultimatum from the authorities that day, resulting in his agreement to close down the zoo permanently. They also made sure Dingle immediately arranged to feed all the animals. USDA indicated it had “no idea” if the animals had been fed between Friday and Tuesday.
Terry‘s Life So Far – From Ice Capades to the Zoo
Terry once crisscrossed the globe as a performing chimp with the Ice Capades. His trainer, Lucien Meyer, bought him as a companion for one of his other chimps, Simon, and taught him to skate. When Meyer retired to Las Vegas in 1995 and could no longer keep his chimps with him, Terry went to the Las Vegas Zoo. His friend Simon went too, but died within weeks.
Sadly, a news story dating back to 2001 indicates that Terry was obviously depressed even then because he was alone. As of 2013, 12 long, lonely years later, the Las Vegas Zoo had still not found him a companion.
An activist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who saw Terry’s living conditions said Terry’s enclosure was “littered with rotten bananas, one shriveled orange and … filthy water.” It was no way for a chimp to live.
Though he was urged to relocate Terry to a chimpanzee sanctuary, the zoo’s owner reportedly refused to do so. The Animal Welfare Act requires that chimps be provided social interaction with members of their own species for their psychological well-being. That fundamental need apparently was not important to the zoo’s owner.
The small zookeeping staff at the Las Vegas Zoo tried its best, by all accounts, but finally decided enough was enough. They must have asked themselves if they were caring for animals or just perpetuating misery. The fact that they all left in rapid succession speaks volumes. Fortunately, their departure brought the situation to a head rapidly. The USDA stepped in to assist with finding new homes for the animals.
Bringing Terry Home to Sanctuary
Working with the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), the USDA immediately began the search for a new home for Terry. Save the Chimps, located in Fort Pierce, Fla., was the natural choice.
Since 1997, Save the Chimps has been rescuing chimps from research labs, the entertainment industry and the pet trade. The largest such facility in the country, Save the Chimps provides an amazing 150 acres of open space and play equipment for nearly 300 chimps.
It took some quick cooperative work to get Terry and four monkeys on their way to sanctuary. NAPSA, the USDA, PETA, the Primate Rescue Center, Inc. (PRC) and the Centennial Hills Animal Hospital pitched in to make it happen. PRC took care of transportation, and PETA assisted with additional funding for the move. PETA credits Sam Simon and another unnamed donor with providing the needed money to help Terry.
“Without this collaborative effort in animal welfare, rescues like this are much harder to do,” said Jo Sullivan, Executive Director for Save the Chimps. “We are so thankful for the support and know we all just want what’s best for Terry and the rest of the animals.”
When his rescuers arrived at the zoo, Terry was a little unsure of what was going on. “Terry seemed very distracted by all of the unusual activity at the zoo—and a little nervous,” Save the Chimps Sanctuary Director Jen Feuerstein said.
“It’s not surprising, given that he is witnessing all of the other animals around him being loaded up and driven away,” she added. “For a brief moment, however, he smiled and played with me. We look forward to getting him settled at Save the Chimps so his personality can shine through.”
To see some of the fun awaiting Terry at his new sanctuary home, watch this Save the Chimps video:
Save the Chimps tweeted Terry’s progress on the drive from Nevada to Florida. It sounds like he was fascinated by the passing scenery the whole way.
Thanks to animal advocates who care, Terry has embarked on a wonderful new life. He will finally have friends and he’ll never have to be alone again. Good for you, Terry. Live long and prosper.
Photo credits: Save the Chimps