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Tumalo chimp sanctuary says founder evicting them


(Update: Comments from board member, accusing founder of negligence, Day’s response)

A Chimps Inc. board member and the ousted founder of the Tumalo chimpanzee sanctuary shed more light and many heated words Tuesday amid a power struggle that has led to the facility’s loss of accreditation and the organization’s plans to move the seven chimps living there to a behavioral research facility in Iowa.

A representative from Chimps Inc. told NewsChannel 21 on Monday it plans on moving the chimps at its facility to the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative research lab in Des Moines, Iowa.

Michel Waller, a member of the Chimps Inc. board of directors, disputed some claims in an online petition Monday, saying, “We are not separating the chimps. They will remain together.”

“Also, they will not be subjected to any invasive or medical research. The research that ACCI does is behavioral and includes puzzles and tasks that are enriching to the chimps and they will enjoy that. Lastly, ACCI is a true state-of-the-art facility.”

Waller said Chimps Inc. would release a statement on its Facebook page in the next day or two.

Lesley Day founded Chimps Inc. in 1995, but stepped down as president of the sanctuary last summer. The facility is still located on her property in Tumalo. Seven chimps live there, all rescued years ago from private owners who used them for entertainment.

“To put them back into research wouldn’t be fair,” Day said Monday. “I promised them a lifetime of care, and it hurts me very much, and they can still stay here for their lifetime.”

A new nonprofit called Freedom for Great Apes Inc. was formed to oppose transferring the chimps. FGA was started specifically to keep the chimps in their current home. The group recently posted an online petition to help make that possible and had gathered nearly 3,000 signatures as of Monday.

“I just hope that ACCI and that Chimps Inc. is seeing how many people care about leaving them here,” Day said. “I think that’s the most important part, that people don’t want them to leave here.”

At first, Day and Chimps Inc. would not comment on why the chimpanzees will be moving to ACCI.

But after NewsChannel 21’s initial story on Monday, Waller told NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday that the sanctuary’s lease of the property is not expiring. Instead, he said, “we have been evicted by Lesley Day, the property owner.”

Waller went on to say, ” As a result of several incidents that resulted in the loss of our GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) accreditation, as well as OSHA and BOLI fines, Lesley Day was removed from day-to-day operations. That is what led to our eviction. Any other reason proffered by Ms Day is a trumped-up excuse. ”

Waller said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state Bureau of Labor and Industries findings in claims by former workers found “several safety and labor violations due to Ms Day’s negligence. It was the board’s opinion that she was incapable or unwilling to follow our safety protocols.”

“My job was to bring the sanctuary into a new era of professionalism, with a focus on caregiver safety and chimp health,” he said. “A year ago, several of the chimps were overweight and lethargic. We have changed that and the chimps are happier, healthier and more intellectually stimulated then ever. ”

Waller also said that Day “was offered the role of founder and given two hours every day to visit the chimps in exchange for rescinding the eviction. It was never our intention to permanently ban her from the sanctuary. She declined that offer and stated she wanted ‘a more meaningful role.’ This FGA group is her cover for regaining control of the sanctuary.”

Asked if there was a set timeline to move the chimps or if there was any chance they’d remain at the facility, Waller said that was “hard to say.”

FGA said it already signed a long-term lease agreement with Day that would allow the organization to operate the sanctuary.

Informed of Waller’s statement Tuesday, Day fired back in an email to NewsChannel 21, claiming Waller’s comments were “not accurate.”

Her reply, in full:

“Because I lost confidence in the Board and management of Chimps, Inc., and Chimps, Inc. was in default on obligations under their lease, I gave a one-year notice last April that my lease with Chimps, Inc. would not be renewed.

“The one-year notice was for Chimps Inc. not for the chimpanzees that have called this sanctuary home for over 23 years.

“I was so concerned about the care being provided for the chimpanzees, I offered to pay for an evaluation of the operations of the sanctuary to be conducted by world-renowned experts, but my offer was not accepted by Chimps, Inc.’s management and board.

“Since then, an Oregon nonprofit corporation called Freedom for Great Apes, Inc. (FGA) was formed to take over the sanctuary and care for the chimpanzees at their sanctuary home.

“Because of my confidence in FGA’s highly qualified and experienced board and management, I entered into a long-term lease agreement with them to allow FGA to care for the chimpanzees at their home on my property to avoid the threatened transfer. I am not on the board or an officer of FGA.

“FGA has contacted Chimps, Inc. and offered to take over operation of the sanctuary. At one point, Michel Waller said he would turn over the keys so long as FGA had a long-term lease. He has refused to do so, despite the fact that FGA has a long-term lease in place and is ready to take over care of the chimpanzees.

“Rather than work with FGA so that the chimps can remain at the sanctuary under qualified care, Mr. Waller has basically told me that if I do not donate my property to Chimps, Inc. he would transfer the chimpanzees to someone other than FGA.

“I feel like I am being blackmailed. They, at one time, said I could come visit. That never happened. It is my belief that Mr. Waller, a local community college anthropology professor with an interest in studying great apes, wants the ability to turn the sanctuary into some sort of research facility.

“It is shocking to me that Mr. Waller has apparently cut some deal to transfer the chimpanzees from their home to a research facility in Iowa rather than work with FGA to allow the chimpanzees to remain at their sanctuary home that was designed to meet their needs.”

An FGA official said it’s tried to work out a solution with Chimps Inc., but the organization has turned down their requests.

The FGA representative said Chimps Inc. had said in their last communication about two weeks ago that it would be in the animals’ best interest to stay in Central Oregon, but FGA would have to amend their lease agreement with Lesley Day.

The representative said they amended the lease to meet their requirements, but that Chimps Inc. officials then said they are declining to work with the group going forward.

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