Primarily Primates

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Primarily Primates
Primarily Primates Logo.png
Date opened 1978
Location Bexar County, Texas
 United States
Coordinates 29°41′21.15″N 98°40′59.02″W / 29.6892083°N 98.6830611°W / 29.6892083; -98.6830611Coordinates: 29°41′21.15″N 98°40′59.02″W / 29.6892083°N 98.6830611°W / 29.6892083; -98.6830611
Land area 30 hectares (74 acres)
No. of animals 450

Primarily Primates (PPI) is a non-profit organization in Bexar County, Texas, that operates an animal sanctuary, housing 600 non-human primates and a variety of other animals retired from use in Entertainment, Research or as rescues from the Exotic Pet Trade.[1] The organization was founded by Wallace (Wally) Swett in 1978, who ran the facility until 2006, when the Texas attorney general took control of it after allegations that the facility was an unfit place for animals. It has since been passed to new management.


Animals at the shelter include primates formerly used in animal research, chimpanzees retired from the United States Air Force (mostly Holloman Air Force Base) and the NASA space program, and Oliver, a chimpanzee exhibited around the world for many years and often referred to as the "humanzee," because of speculation in the past that he might be part human. One former tenant was Britches the monkey who was removed from a laboratory as an infant in a raid perpetuated by the Animal Liberation Front.[2] Other notable chimps now living there include Willie and Harry[3] who appeared in the film, Project X. Willie played Virgil the chimp, who was taught to pilot planes.

The Texas attorney general took control of the sanctuary in October 2006 after allegations that the facility was "unfit," and that public donations had been misspent while the animals lived in substandard accommodation.[4] An Austin probate court put the sanctuary into temporary receivership and appointed a primate expert, Lee Theisen-Watt, to evaluate the animals' condition and supervise their care. The attorney general asked the court permanently to remove Wally Swett and his associates, and require them to repay some of the funds that were allegedly misspent.[4] In April 2007, a settlement was reached appointing a new board of directors, which the Chicago Tribune writes, includes associates of the previous operators, such as Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based animal-rights group that funded Swett's defense, and Stephen Tello, Swett's former deputy. At the conclusion of the Receivership, spokesman Kelly for the attorney-general's office said in a statement that "[t]he troubling conditions at Primarily Primates have been remedied."[5]

Temporary receivership[edit]

The controversy began when a former employee of the sanctuary took undercover footage showing sick animals and primates confined in small cages.[6] The material was handed to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which filed a lawsuit against Primarily Primates in March 2006.

The courts dismissed the lawsuit, but the controversy continued. Both sides made serious allegations against the other, with PETA maintaining a highly critical website called Primarily Primates: Hell On Earth For Animals.[7]

The Texas attorney general's office ordered the takeover of the sanctuary on Friday, October 13, 2006, and the appointment of a temporary receiver. Lee Theisen-Watt, a primatologist, was placed in charge of the sanctuary. Confirming overcrowding and inadequate conditions, she began relocating animals to appropriate facilities.

New management[edit]

On May 1, 2007, the temporary receivership concluded and a new management team arrived. Chimp Haven, a sanctuary to which a number of chimps were relocated during the receivership, chose not to return the chimps to PPI.[8]


On April 27, 2007, the state of Texas entered into a settlement agreement which concluded the term of Court Appointed Receiver, Lee Theisen-Watt, and approved a board of directors that is headed by Eric Turton and Priscilla Feral. The settlement also dismissed all charges against Primarily Primates. Swett was required to leave the property and is prohibited from serving either on the board or as an employee.[9]

In May 2007, Texas courts handed management of the facility to Friends of Animals, with a new board of directors headed by Stephen Tello, who had previously been involved in running the facility for 20 years.[10] In addition to Tello, the new board consists of Priscilla Feral of Friends of Animals, which funded Wally Swett's legal defense; and Lou Griffin, a primatologist with laboratory experience of non-human primates.[5] A primate veterinarian, Dr. Michele Martino, also joined the board, but resigned soon after. In a press release, Feral stated: "My promise to donors, advocates, and the public is that this sanctuary will be tidy, well-run, communicative, and a place advocates can be proud to support."[11]

A spokesman for the Texas attorney general's office, Tom Kelley, stated "The troubling conditions at Primarily Primates have been remedied." (By the Court Appointed Receivership) Which allowed for the Office of the Attorney General to settle with the Defendants, requiring they maintain the new standards. He confirmed that Wally Swett will be permanently barred from the facility as part of the settlement.[5]


  1. ^ Primarily Primates Newsletter Summer 2011 A Match Made In Heaven: the story of Jordan the Lemur
  2. ^ info
  3. ^ Primarily Primates Newsletter Winter 2010-11 Spotlight on willie and Harry
  4. ^ a b Tumiel, Cindy. "Primarily Primates battle heads to mediation", San Antonio Express-News, February 7, 2007.
  5. ^ a b c Witt, Howard. Sanctuary case dropped: Former operators to get facility back, Chicago Tribune, April 27, 2007; accessed January 20, 2008.
  6. ^ Smith, Jordan. Legendary "Humanzee" Oliver, his friends, and the bitter fight over animal welfare at a Texas refuge, The Austin Chronicle, December 15, 2006; see footage here, courtesy of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, accessed January 8, 2009.
  7. ^ Primarily Primates: Hell On Earth For Animals, detailing PETA's allegations.
  8. ^ Tumiel, Cindy. Primarily Primates works to reclaim inhabitants, San Antonio Express-News, January 3, 2008.
  9. ^ Settlement looming for Primarily Primates by Cindy Tumiel San Antonio Express-News April 25, 2007, 10:30 PM CDT
  10. ^ Foy, Nicola. New Management Eager to Revitalize Primate Refuge, San Antonio Express-News, May 26, 2007.
  11. ^ Settlement for Primarily Primates Means Refuge Can Move On Press release dated 04/27/07, Friends of Animals.

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