Falls chimpanzee Kiko deserves his sanctuary - The Buffalo News
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Falls chimpanzee Kiko deserves his sanctuary

You might question Carmen Presti’s sanity, but it’s tough to question his heart. Not many people, after all, would spend 14 to 16 hours a day with a bunch of monkeys and chimpanzees.

Carmen and his wife, Christie, for years have cared for chimpanzees and more than two dozen rescue monkeys in a converted grocery store on a residential street in Niagara Falls.

It’s not a life most people would choose. They realized early that caring for primates, including chimpanzees Charlie and Kiko, was a life endeavor.

“This is a full-time commitment,” Carmen Presti said. “We really don’t have time for children.”

For more than a decade, the Prestis have been working toward opening a sanctuary on 30 acres of farmland they own in Wilson. They’ve already built a house on the land, but getting approval for the sanctuary took years since the town didn’t have any laws on the books for such a thing. The Prestis finally got the go-ahead this year, but then Charlie, a chimp trained in karate who made television appearances in his youth, fell ill. He died of heart failure last month and was mourned at a memorial service that drew hundreds of well-wishers.

Charlie the Chimp may have been the famous one, but Kiko is on his way to becoming internationally known. News last week that an animal rights group wants to designate the chimpanzee and three others as legal persons was picked up from Russia to Australia.

The idea provoked a collective: They want to do what?

Cue the jokes. Should chimps pay taxes? Get Social Security numbers?

But the Nonhuman Rights Project is serious. It’s a calculated attempt at finding just the right court to upend the way the legal system views animals.

The group has argued that chimps are “cognitively complex autonomous” legal persons that deserve the right not to be imprisoned. But it doesn’t suggest chimps are capable of living on their own, free to rent apartments and vote.

The suit seeks freedom for Kiko, but that wouldn’t mean the kind of freedom you and I enjoy.

The group wants Kiko transferred to one of eight organizations in the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance. In other words, freedom will mean another captive home – albeit one that may provide him the ability to socialize with groups of chimpanzees and access to a more rural environment.

The suit seems like an end-run around the fact that there hasn’t been any cruelty complaint lodged against the care the Prestis have provided.

Michael Borowiec, a Wheatfield veterinarian who has helped care for Kiko and Charlie, called the Prestis’ oversight of the animals “exemplary.”

“They see them almost as equals, but are absolutely respectful of what is not the same as a human being,” said Borowiec, who sits on the board of the Prestis’ nonprofit organization. “They are remarkable people, and the care they take is also remarkable.”

Even if Kiko won the right to be viewed as a legal “person,” what right would another group have to become its legal guardian, when there’s no indication that the Prestis have been anything other than loving to these animals?

Animals cared for by humans are defenseless and dependent. They deserve strict laws that protect them from cruelty and harm. Anything else is just monkey business.

email: djgee@buffnews.com

The suit seeks freedom for Kiko, but that wouldn’t mean the kind of freedom you and I enjoy.

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