Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based international animal advocacy organization, has announced the appointment of Krystal Mathis as acting executive director of Primarily Primates, the pioneering animal sanctuary in Behar County, Texas, that FoA has managed since 2007. Additionally, Nicole Benson has joined Primarily Primates as office and development manager.

Founded in 1981, Primarily Primates provides lifetime care and housing for animals who were exploited and discarded by research labs, the entertainment industry and exotic pet trade. Many of the hundreds of animals at the refuge—including chimpanzees, lemurs, spider monkeys and macaques, as well as macaws and other tropical birds—led limited, dismal lives. PPI’s facilities and specialized animal welfare programs ensure all resident animals have a comfortable, secure and stimulating life.

Mathis assumes the duties of longtime executive director Brooke Chavez, who will be on personal leave from PPI. A zoologist by training, Chavez was instrumental in elevating PPI’s enrichment program to promote the primates’ natural wild behaviors and mental stimulation as well as their overall rehabilitation. She went to great lengths to get the animals to let their guard down and be receptive to kindness.

“We thank Brooke for investing all her passions and talent to provide such compassionate and professional care to our animals, some who touch grass and develop social groups for the first times in their lives,” says Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “I look forward to working with Krystal who has an impressive animal care background and experience on every level of operating a non- profit.”

Mathis has always been devoted to animals. As a fifth-generation Texas rancher growing up on her family’s 700-acre cattle, horse, and goat ranch, she used to cry because her parents would not let her sleep with the goats in the barn. She decided early on that animals are not food and continues to provide care to the animals who live on the ranch now.

After earning her zoology degree from Texas State University, Mathis began work as a zookeeper at the San Antonio Zoo. She cared for a wide variety of animals, from addax to zebras. She also was on the operant conditioning teams for okapi, giraffe, hippos, otters, squirrel monkeys, sloths, and birds. Since then, Mathis has worked for seven years at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc., including nearly two years as the chief administrative officer overseeing the organization’s 180-acre sanctuary, wildlife rehabilitation hospital, and a satellite facility in San Antonio. In between, Mathis worked in development for the Cibolo Nature Center & Farm and San Antonio Pets Alive!

“I’m thrilled to be working for Primarily Primates and Friends of Animals as acting executive director, and I particularly look forward to learning as much as possible about great apes,” says Mathis. “I promise to do my best for the animals and for the many people who support PPI, both here on the ground in Texas, and far and wide.”

Benson joins PPI after many years with the Boysville Auxiliary of San Antonio, helping to raise much needed funds for the Boysville, Inc. foster care system. Benson started volunteering at PPI in September 2020, because animals, especially primates, have always held a special place in her heart. She adopted a plant-based lifestyle at the age of 14 and began studying primatology at a young age. She graduated from the University of Texas San Antonio with a degree in anthropology after completing field work in Costa Rica working with primates in the wild.

“Being at Primarily Primates feels like home—like this is where I am meant to be. I am grateful for the opportunity to help all these amazing animals,” Benson says.

PPI was the first primate sanctuary in North America and the first to rescue chimpanzees requiring lifetime care following medical research. PPI’s devoted staff supports all dimensions of animal life, from diet to medical care to social-behavior management. Staff perform daily animal assessments, including behavior and physical checkups, for illness prevention and social-behavior management.