Primarily Primates Newsletter
Film Producer Andy Cockrum On Inspiration From Chimpanzees
Q: About a decade ago, you chose Primarily Primates’ chimpanzees, monkeys and lemurs to feature in art and on film. What inspired you?
In 2003, when I was looking for a new documentary subject to shoot, Primarily Primates invited me for a tour. While walking around, I found myself wanting to help the sanctuary. It quickly became apparent that the best way I could help was to begin telling the stories of these animals — giving people a window into the sanctuary’s efforts.
Q:What was it about the chimpanzee Oliver that sparked your interest in making the lives of captive chimpanzees as full and interesting as possible?
Over years, and many visits to the sanctuary, I’ve learned a lot about about these animals, especially the chimpanzees. Some were captured in Africa, forced to work in the entertainment industry, such as circuses, until they were no longer needed. Then they were sold to laboratories where they endured years in small cages.
One of my favorites, Little Boy, always seems excited and happy to have a visitor. He once worked in a traveling animal act and appeared on the MTV Music awards on stage with Bette Midler. His trainers ultimately sent him to Primarily Primates, so he avoided a life in a lab.
Other chimpanzees were born in cages and lived most their lives in labs, or were pets until they became too dangerous or expensive. This was the case with Buck, whose owner could no longer keep him. Today he lives at Primarily Primates in a large grass-bottomed habitat with other chimpanzees.
And then there was Oliver. Because of his strange human-like traits, he was once touted as being “The Missing Link” and had been featured in television programs like “Unsolved Mysteries.” Like many others, he had been captured in Africa, and forced into the entertainment industry until he became too expensive to keep. Eventually Oliver was sold to a laboratory and spent seven years in a 4' x4' cage. When the laboratory decided to release a group of chimpanzees to Primarily Primates, Oliver was among them. Oliver, mostly deaf and blind, spent the last few years at the sanctuary with Raisin, one of the gentler chimpanzees.
Oliver was a sweet chimpanzee who loved humans around him, and the animal care staff paid extra attention to him. A few years ago, I decided to raise funds to build a new grass-bottomed habitat in which he could spend the rest of his life with Raisin. I created Project Oliver and started to tell his story, in hopes that would raise the needed funds. A grassy habitat, like the six already at the sanctuary, would cost more than $100,000.
Oliver passed away before we were able to raise the funds, but now I’d like to honor him by building “Oliver’s Playscape,” that can connect up to five enclosures, allowing each group of chimpanzees to take turns in this grassy play and enrichment area. Many of these chimpanzees could live 20 to 50 more years. They can’t be released into the wild, but they should have as much pleasure as possible. Everyone involved will benefit from knowing they helped give a bunch of chimpanzees a positive experience — an enriching environment to enjoy the rest of their lives.
Q:What memories stand out from your filming of the sanctuary?
One day I heard a rolling sound, and saw that a capuchin had figured out how to roll a bowling ball back and forth over a peanut to break it open. On another day while walking in the Outback, I kept hearing a loud scraping noise. Approaching one of the chimpanzee habitats, I saw several chimpanzees pushing small helmets around the concrete floor as if they were children pushing small trucks.
A young chimpanzee named Deeter seemed to want some interaction, so I ran the outside length of the habitat, with him running alongside me, on the inside. We did this for five minutes or more, and he seemed to have great fun racing me. Today, Deeter is more rambunctious and enjoys throwing whatever he can my direction, including coconuts on Coconut Enrichment Day.
Q:You have filmed a wide range of documentaries and more than 50 videos of the sanctuary’s residents. What are your favorites?
A favorite video is “Helmet Skaters,” which I filmed after discovering the chimpanzees pushing helmets around their habitat. I also enjoyed filming the Eagle Scouts adding enrichment elements to Oliver’s habitat.
Q:As an artist and film producer, how do you push yourself to do what you haven’t done before?
In one film, “Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey,” I followed a group of people with varying disabilities on a 21 day trek to Mount Everest Base camp. That film took years to edit which put me in debt, but since completion it has played all over the world at festivals and on television. I receive positive comments from viewers it’s inspired.
Q:What future projects are you envisioning?
I have two documentary project works, and one feature film to shoot in the next couple years. I hope to finish shooting a more thorough depiction of Oliver’s life. Meanwhile, I’m editing a documentary about Sherpa who live in New York City.
Q:You once indicated your dogs come first. Explain that!
I have two dogs, Macie and Hannah, who are part of my family. I think dogs have feelings, much like humans and chimpanzees. I think I can tell when the dogs are sad by the way they look at me. “What do you mean you’re leaving? Weren’t we going to play ball? OK. Sure. I’ll just lay here on the couch and sleep.” I think dogs, like all (captive) animals, deserve to have as good of a life as possible, and it’s up to humans to step in and give them that opportunity.
In late February, we welcomed Brooke Chavez as our sanctuary’s new enrichment coordinator. Brooke shows a flair for enrichment projects that include healthful, handmade treats such as blue pancakes, veggie cacciatore in romaine, oatmeal raisin ‘cookie dough’ bites (hidden inside containers for probing), and no-sodium-added banana chips. She also designed Bubble Day — with monkeys chasing bubbles blown for them — and Art Day, which moves chimpanzee Wanda to select three shades of chalk.
“As early as I can remember,” says Brooke, “I’ve advocated for animals. By age six, I had converted my bedroom into a hospital of sorts for injured wildlife. A passion for animals led me to study zoology, where I gained over a decade of experience in enrichment, animal care and welfare.”
In 2001, Brooke created Sunny Day Farms, which became the largest sanctuary in Texas for farm animals.
“Primarily Primates helped my sanctuary by taking in two cows, Max and Lorenzo, rescued from situations where their lives were in danger.”
Brooke looks forward to working with the animals at Primarily Primates to enrich their lives as we continue to provide the best care possible.
“I am excited to see what the future holds as I learn more about the personalities of these animals and find creative ways of improving their quality of life.”Rescuing and Welcoming Matilda
On March 13, Primarily Primates’ Executive Director Stephen Tello and our veterinarian Dr. Val Kirk drove to Galveston, Texas to receive our newest resident, a 24-yearold, blue-eyed, black-handed spider monkey named Matilda. Matilda was held by a firefighter who called us to request placement. As he explained the situation, he had taken Matilda from an owner who had tired of her monkey.
The firefighter, Andy, said Matilda had been on display at a ranch almost all of her life, living on an unhealthful diet of scraps.
Andy built her an enclosure and looked for the right sanctuary to accept Matilda, and found Primarily Primates. We already care for more than a dozen spider monkeys who have all been socialized in groups. When funds permit, we build tree-filled enclosures, 40 feet high, for these monkeys to enjoy.
Dr. Val tranquilized and examined Matilda prior to the trip back to San Antonio. Dr. Val found worn teeth, an old toe fracture, and a remarkably calm personality.
Now, as most spider monkeys are, Matilda is excited by avocados, bananas and grapes.
Matilda lives near Minky and Tina- Marie and their offspring, Neytiri. If rehabilitation goes well, Matilda will be successfully introduced to this group. Primarily Primates is her first adult opportunity to see monkeys like herself, and to explore a variety of activities which will certainly broaden her horizons.
Delivering Coconuts and Melons
It’s Spring. A change in weather expands our enrichment of primates’ lives to include seasonal produce in Texas.
Nourishment ideas can be easy, but some require specialized staff. To offer chimpanzees whole foods like coconuts, honeydew, or watermelons we have designed feeding chutes for their living spaces. Otherwise, the apes would need to be locked into their bedroom areas or moved to a different habitat while we spread the coconuts or melons around. Trying to get 45 chimpanzees to cooperate is by no means an easy task.
Tracey Jackson, our maintenance supervisor, helped create a large food chute with an opening big enough to allow a whole watermelon to slide through safely into the hands of the chimpanzees. The chutes are long, apes cannot stick their hands up the chute to snatch the food out of a caregivers’ hand, or reach the caregiver. Tracey framed and welded the chutes to withstand kicks from our strongest apes.
The first two new feed chutes were readied for the New Year. We held a New Year’s Party for the chimpanzees, using the new food chutes to safely supply coconuts to chimpanzees, who enjoyed cracking them open to get to the coconut meat and sweet hydration.
Each new feed chute costs close to $200. Once installed, a chute can be safely used by our staff every day. In addition, these large feed chutes allow caregivers to pass out towels, small blankets, and other items that require a safe method of delivery.Fiesta In the Jungle
Primarily Primates Sanctuary Presents Dinner & Fundraiser Event
Saturday, June 8, 2013 • 7:00–10:00 pm
VENUE: Green Restaurant — Downtown at Pearl Brewery
220 E. Grayson St. • Suite 120 • San Antonio, TX 78215
$50.00 per person
Wonderful Dining — Dinner, dessert, beverages — Wine and beer
Silent Auction — Live Music
RSVP ONLINE: www.primarilyprimates.org
CHECKS TO HOLD RESERVATIONS, MAIL TO:
Primarily Primates c/o Fiesta in the Jungle
26099 Dull Knife Trail • San Antonio, TX • 78255
CREDIT CARD RESERVATIONS:
Call Maggie — 830-755-4616 at Primarily Primates
In appreciation to of our
Brave Troops who proudly
serve our Country everyday.
Love, Marianne and Dan Parks ForTheTroops.org, Simi Valley CA
A gift for G. Kolakowski
In Honor of All God’s Creatures.
In memory: My beloved son — Edward Anderson
For Primate Enrichment and Joy
Unsalted sunflower seeds
Dried or fresh fruit
Kong dog toys
Children’s picture books
- Playing and Stargazing Under the Dome: The Future For Our Chimpanzees
- The Life and Times of Oliver, A Chimpanzee
- Needing You More Than Ever
- Chimpanzees: We Can Work It Out
- The Director’s Diary: Leaf-Eating Monkeys With Booming Whoops
- A Match Made In Heaven
- Spotlight on Willie and Friends
- The Director’s Diary: Rescued Macaque Monkeys Faring Well
- The Director’s Diary: The Arrival of Joey, a Capuchin Monkey
- Max and Lorenzo: Two Great Escapes
- The Fruit of a New Alliance: The Primarily Primates Advisory Board
- Who’s That New Chimpanzee – Curious George? No, It’s Buck!
- Birds Spread Their Wings At Their New Home
- Kecko’s Story
Who Is a Lemur, and Why Would One Live in Texas?
- Sun and Wind Provide Power for Primarily Primates - Fall 2008
- Update: The Emma and Jackson Custody Case Closes - June 2008
- What’s New at Primarily Primates
Updates from Priscilla Feral and Stephen Rene Tello - February 2008
- Dear Friend of Primarily Primates: - December 5, 2007
- New Direction; New Hope: Welcome Message and Sanctuary Updates from Stephen R. Tello, Executive Director of PPI - June 28, 2007