Festus chimps seized with U.S. Marshal oversight

FOX Files

FESTUS, Mo. – Starting today, the Festus chimpanzee complex is no more. That’s after a court-ordered seizure of the chimps overseen by U.S. Marshals.

Wildlife workers moved cages in the shade, alongside a long trailer that would be used to transport the chimps to a Florida wildlife sanctuary.

FOX 2 confirmed the transport trailer is fully air-conditioned for the long trip. We could not yet see the chimps as we learned it took hours to move them.

In April, when caregiver Tonia Haddix gave FOX 2 exclusive access to what it looks like inside the compound.

Haddix had intervened about five years ago in a lawsuit brought by the animal rights group PETA, alleging unsafe and unsanitary conditions. She’d hoped to keep the chimpanzees in Festus, but lost that battle today.

The judge said she could be nowhere closer than two miles from the action because of what she told Fox 2in June.

She said at the time, “They’re not getting the chimps. They’re not getting them. They’re going to have to bring sheriffs and they’re going to have to bring everything they can.”

Today she told us by phone about her last moments with the chimps.

“Yesterday was a really sad day for all of us. We spent every moment that we could with the chimps all day yesterday and got them their happy meals,” Haddix said.

“We sat with the chimps as long as we could and were able to say our goodbyes to them and uhm,” she started to cry as she continued, “It was just real emotional day for Connie and I.”

Neighbors Valerie and Clayton Springemann walked by to see.

“She took care of them all these years. I think she’s had them probably 30 years, so it’s a little bit upsetting to the rest of us,” Valerie said.

Clayton said, “It seems like they took care of them most of the time, and they haven’t really caused a ruckus as neighbors.”

Valerie added, “I wish they could’ve stayed, you know, this is an icon around here. This is the monkey farm.”

Moira Colley, a spokeswoman for PETA, sent FOX 2 a statement Thursday morning following the seizure.

Acting pursuant to a court order, PETA this week removed all six of the remaining chimpanzees held at the former Missouri Primate Foundation (MPF) breeding compound in Festus, and they are now living at a Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries–accredited sanctuary, at which they will be acclimated to a beautiful outdoor habitat, where they will be provided with nutritious food, expert care, and the space to engage in natural types of chimpanzee behavior.

This rescue is the result of a consent agreement in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuit filed by PETA and former MPF volunteer Angela Scott and heard by Judge Catherine D. Perry of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Pursuant to the consent agreement, former MPF operator Connie Casey and Tonia Haddix, the chimpanzees’ most recent former owner, are both prohibited from ever again owning or possessing chimpanzees.

“After decades of being primarily warehoused in cramped cells, these highly social and smart chimpanzees are on their way to a wonderful sanctuary home,” says PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA looks forward to seeing them receive the expert veterinary and other care that they deserve.”

It was documented that the chimpanzees were living amid trash and their own waste—with the stench of urine in one room so overwhelming that a volunteer couldn’t enter. PETA’s lawsuit alleged that the MPF—which bred chimpanzees for the entertainment industry and the exotic-pet trade—violated the ESA by confining chimpanzees in inadequate social groups; confining them to cramped, inadequate enclosures; and denying many of them the opportunity to engage in natural behavior. Over the decades, dozens of chimpanzee babies were taken from their mothers at Casey’s breeding compound and sold, including Travis, the Connecticut chimpanzee who attacked a woman in 2009, biting her face off. Travis was shot and killed after the attack.

Among those rescued is Connor, who was used for Hallmark greeting cards that are still on sale today—and who reportedly bit his handler and tried to attack three other people on the set of his final shoot—and Tammy, whom an eyewitness saw screaming and frantically searching for the babies who had been taken from her to be sold.

The Center for Great Apes (CGA), the Florida sanctuary accepting these chimpanzees, contracted with Project Chimps for their transportation. The CGA has given compassionate care for the past three decades to over 40 chimpanzees—five of whom were originally born at Casey’s Missouri breeding compound and then sold as (totally unsuitable) “pets.” The six chimpanzees relocated this week to the sanctuary will meet their siblings for the first time, and Tammy will eventually meet one of her sons.

PETA

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