NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - Man and primate have much in common. Humans, chimps and bonobos all shared a common ancestor millennia ago, and humans and chimps share 98 percent of their DNA. Though our similarities are recognized, primates have not always fared well at the hand of man. Because of poor treatment and ignorance, many end up in sanctuaries like The Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls.
"We've been working with primates the last thirty years. Probably in the last fifteen years, we turned into a non-profit organization, and we started rescuing monkeys, both ex-research, abused, and ex pets," said Carm Presti, vice president of The Primate Sanctuary.
Research animals, however, seem to have less difficulty adjusting to life at the sanctuary than ex-pets, who display some very neurotic behavior, including self mutilation. Presti believes that primates are not meant to be pets.
"Ninety percent of people who buy a monkey as a pet, they will end up in a sanctuary or in a shelter or confiscated and brought wherever. The reason why is because when they start going through puberty, they establish a hierarchy in your family, and I've never known a primate to be lower than number two."
Primates are both highly intelligent and very social creatures. Many of their behavior issues in captivity derive from being torn from their families at a very early age.
"They're pulling them from their mother, and it's like someone coming into your house and grabbing your child from you, you will die for that child. The difference is, the mother is going to be restrained, and the child is going to be taken from her, and it's very traumatic for both the mother and the infant," said Presti.
Education is also a key part of the sanctuary's mission. It's part of their daily routine at their current facility, but there are plans to expand to Wilson, New York. That would grow their educational outreach as well as provide more space for their troop.
"The new facility is going to be an indoor/outdoor facility for everyone, larger cages indoor for them, trying to get as natural of an environment as possible. When people come in, we want them to be educated and learn about each one of these guys background, not just the species itself, but what they went through before they ended up at our facility."