By Nicole Rivard

The first time Arianna Salinas heard about Primarily Primates was when she was working at LBV Environmental Science Center in Laredo, Texas, as the lead technician caring for native animals who were not able to be released back into the wild.

One day a pet shop owner dropped off two ring-tailed lemurs, and LBV’s director brought them to PPI. When Salinas moved to San Antonio, she immediately sent her resume to the sanctuary.

“As I was walking around the property during my interview, I just knew I had to somehow be a part of Primarily Primates,” Salinas recalled. “The environmental aspect was amazing. At LBV I worked with skunks, opossums, fox kits, raccoons, collard peccaries, white-tailed deer and many reptiles including American alligators, but not with primates, and I was so eager to learn.”

Salinas’ hard work and dedication since joining PPI in 2017 resulted in her recent promotion to director of animal care. Here she talks about her connections with the animals and what a typical day at PPI is like: “Well, a typical day is never typical. In the mornings I make my rounds unlocking buildings and doing animal checks throughout the 78-acre sanctuary. I follow up with the animal care team about animals who have been put on meds to see how they’re improving. I usually also tend to the daily needs of the animals in a particular section. I’m constantly making sure that produce, food and supply orders have been put in and that enrichment items are plentiful enough to meet our day-to-day needs.”

What is the most rewarding part of working at the sanctuary? The most rewarding things are the beginning and end of each day. I’m greeted by our residents as I unlock the sanctuary. Their faces show they’re as happy to see me as I am to see them. When it’s time to leave, I marvel all that has been accomplished in one workday. The happy sounds of capuchins as they eat their evening produce, the chimpanzee pant hoots as they get nightly enrichment and even the wild geese who roam our property just make me smile at the end of each day.

Are there any animals you feel particularly connected to? Macaques hold a very special place in my heart. They were the first primates I’ve ever worked with, and I love their personalities. Amber is just a doll. She lip smacks every time she sees me. Ivor the kinkajou with his old man hissing is perfect. April the chimp is PPI’s sweetheart in my eyes. And Willie the chimp and I have a really blossoming friendship. He used to try to chase me off when I walked by, but now we have dance sessions together.

What do you think would surprise people the most about the sanctuary? What surprises people when they hear I work with primates is when I say I don’t cuddle with chimps or monkeys. I don’t think anyone quite understands how much hard work it takes to do what we do at the sanctuary every day and that each animal has an amazing unique personality. I have learned so much from each animal. I’ve read each one of their histories we have on file and I’m making it my personal mission to give them the best quality of life possible. After being exploited prior to coming to Primarily Primates, I promise they will never be left wanting or in need of anything.