Open Letter to the Missouri Primate Foundation

To the Missouri Primate Foundation,  

This week, the Jane Goodall Institute celebrated the 60th anniversary of Dr. Goodall’s revolutionary study of chimpanzees in Gombe National Park. The ongoing study revealed and continues to explore the importance of social relationships among chimpanzees. Naturally curious and active, chimpanzees thrive in social situations with limited containment.

Through a story featured in the Arnold-Imperial Leader (dated July 16, 2020) by Tony Krausz, I became aware of the Missouri Primate Foundation. The article reports the escape of a chimpanzee named Makayla on July 10. Her escape is attributed to an unsecure locking mechanism, which brings forth a connection to a similar incident in 2001, when three chimpanzees escaped because they were negligently secured.

Among those chimpanzees was 28-year old Suzie. Her story is tragic. In a 2001 article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, eyewitness Christine Thomas described the final moments of Suzie’s life: “Suzie was just sitting at the bush, playing with it, smelling its leaves, petting the trees, like monkeys do.”

Jason Coats, aged 17 at the time, exited his home with a shotgun and fatally fired at Suzie three times from his porch, after she had been tranquilized.  

Ms. Casey, I cannot imagine the pain of that moment – for in that same article, it noted your nearly 30 years of experience raising and living alongside these primates. I believe there is truth to your sense of loss, and the sense of loss you describe the other 23 chimpanzees in your care feeling. After all, a significant portion of Dr. Goodall’s work has been dedicated to the discovery of the emotional capabilities – and grief as an expression – of chimpanzees.  

I believe it was a miscarriage of justice for Mr. Coats to serve 30 days in jail for felony property destruction and misdemeanor animal abuse. It is unfortunate our legal system failed Suzie – and that it took until 2015 for the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to declare chimpanzees endangered in the wild and in captivity. What Mr. Coats did was unconscionable, which is why I have an issue with him finding a platform in the latest story related to Makayla’s escape on July 10.

Mr. Coats has signaled blame for his actions on the existence of chimpanzees in the area. I believe he remains hostile and remorseless – and unfortunately, that poses an additional security risk to the chimpanzees in your care. Coupled with the repeated incidence of escape related to negligent security, I am writing to urge you to transfer your chimpanzees to a sanctuary, namely the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida – where Dr. Jane Goodall serves as an honorary board member.

In my learning of your organization, I uncovered citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as far back as August 1998. Several citations were related to space, cleanliness, pest infestations, and the lack of environmental stimulation. In fact, as part of your ongoing litigation with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Judge Catherine D. Perry found, “it is in the best interest of Joey to be transferred to the Center for Great Apes.”

I think it stands to reason that if a transfer has been ordered by a court, in the best interest of a chimpanzee affiliated with your organization, it is time to do what is right for the remaining chimpanzees. I certainly do not pretend to know the sense of loss you may experience in doing so – but deep down, you must know what’s right.

These chimpanzees deserve more – and they deserve it as soon as possible. The remainder of their lives should be robust in a sanctuary where they are free to roam, socialize, and live. Your love and dedication to them has been demonstrated for decades, but so too has your inability to care for them in essential ways. Please do not delay the inevitable – let them live now.