by By Vincent T. Davis, San Antonio Express Staff Writer May 3, 2015  

Over a craggy rise in a Hill Country neighborhood, the sounds of exotic animals not native to Texas echo in the air.

The neighbors are familiar with the howls and squawks from more than 400 animals — including monkeys, chimpanzees and macaques — that live at Primarily Primates on the far Northwest Side. Many of the animals are recovering from abuse; others, from their days of people trying to keep them as pets. 

Thirty visitors, including potential donors, animal advocates and media, toured the property off Boerne Stage Road on Saturday morning for the nonprofit’s first public tour since the facility was certified by the U.S. Agriculture Department. That agency is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

Through the gate on Dull Knife Trail, director Brooke Chavez introduced the animals living at the 70-acre property. There were emus, some that had been found running on Interstate 10. Nearby, in reinforced steel enclosures were gibbons, whose males emit sounds like a drum, and other primates released from biomedical research facilities.

It’s also home to Louie, a juvenile macaque taken from his owner by officials after biting a bank employee in March.

“There were two victims,” Chavez said, “the woman who was bitten and the animal that was bought.”

Chavez said the tour is the first of many planned at the sanctuary. She said it takes more than $1 million to run the complex that includes a veterinary clinic.

Eight years ago, Friends of Animals took over management of the nonprofit, which calls itself the oldest and largest primate sanctuary in the United States. FoA president Priscilla Feral said some animals arrive declawed and defanged.

“It’s like a ticking time bomb, before someone gets bitten” she said. “A pet monkey or a pet ape is a perfectly terrible idea; yet there are still a string of states that sell them in pet stores, and you can buy a chimpanzee baby on the Internet. By 6 years old, you push them and they push you back, and then you find out the guy that’s pushing you back has 10 times the strength you do. That’s why it doesn’t work out.”

As the crowd passed lemurs, known for their catlike sounds, a roadrunner scampered into view, flicked its tail and ducked into a patch of sun-parched grass.

A male chimpanzee named Buck let the crowd know they were in his habitat by running from end to end in his kennel, scraping a broken, white construction hard hat against the rails.

Chavez said that when Buck arrived, he wasn’t rambunctious. He once belonged to a couple in Missouri, living on a fast-food diet in a basement.

“He had to be taught to be a chimpanzee,” she said, “the other chimps taught him how to eat.”

Hawks soared overhead as Chavez led the group along gravel trails that wound through the property. Visitors snapped photos with cellphones and high-end cameras of the PrimaDome, which links three chimpanzee enclosures to a dome where chimps romp on logs and cargo ropes.

“They are wild animals, and they belong in the wild,” she said.

The tour ended at a large pond, where skateboard-sized fish churned the water to devour pellets cast by the crowd.

Guests Debbi Riedel and Rene Schultz, who live in the neighborhood, said the animals’ presence doesn’t bother them. Both women signed up as volunteers.

Schultz said hearing the sounds in her own backyard isn’t annoying, but beautiful.

“If these places didn’t exist, these animals would’ve been euthanized,” she said. “This is a special place. I’m very impressed with the care of these animals.”


.....(Read the full article and see a slideshow of pictures from the sanctuary on the San Antonio Express website)