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National Geographic features Falls Primate Sanctuary 'Explorer' episode focuses on owners, effect of captivity on two chimpanzees

Two chimpanzees and their Niagara Falls home, the Primate Sanctuary, will be featured tonight on the National Geographic Channel.

Charlie and Kiko, along with sanctuary owners Carmen Presti and his wife, Christie, will appear in an episode of "Explorer," called "Chimps on the Edge." The episode airs at 10 p.m.

A crew from New York City-based Pangloss Films -- founded by Buffalo native Peter Yost -- came to town in May.

The crew spent three days filming for the show, which will explore the question of whether a new form of chimp is evolving in captivity, according to the channel's Web site.

"My chimps gave them everything they wanted," Carmen Presti said. "They were on their best behavior."

The footage taken of Charlie and Kiko included them using tools, having blood drawn from their arms, watching a violent television program and eating pizza.

Presti, the sanctuary's vice president, said he hopes the national attention will spur the fundraising effort to move the sanctuary from Livingston Avenue in the Falls to 30 acres of farmland that the couple owns in Wilson. The couple already has built a new home on the site.

The sanctuary has been running as a not-for-profit since 2000, though the Prestis have been operating a refuge for primates since 1990. Presti and his staff care for the two chimpanzees, 26 monkeys and 18 exotic birds.

Presti and his chimps have appeared on numerous television shows, including "Animal Planet" and "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee" in the late 1990s. Their main star was Charlie, who has since retired from being "the karate chimp." Charlie's martial arts expertise on video is still licensed to help raise funds for the sanctuary. Footage of Charlie also has been popular in the United Kingdom and Japan.

Presti said his facility is bursting at the seams, though it recently took in two homeless primates.

Mya, an 8-month-old rhesus macaque, came to the sanctuary two months ago after the state Department of Environmental Conservation took her from a home in Dansville, in Livingston County. Mya, who weighs a healthy 4 pounds, had been purchased over the Internet.

Another primate, a capuchin monkey, had been living in a Niagara County residence for 22 years before it recently bit one of its owners and the sanctuary took it in.

The monkey had been treated very well by his owners, Presti said.

If the state can't find a facility to accept illegally owned and seized primates, they could be euthanized, Presti said.

Under a 2005 state law, it is illegal to own a dangerous animal in New York without having a permit through the DEC, Presti said. He stresses his firm belief that these kinds of animals do not make good pets. "I'd like to see all the selling of primates just stop," he said.

Presti and some of his primates will be featured at the Wildlife Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Niagara Power Project, 5777 Lewiston Road, Lewiston.

To donate or find out more about the Primate Sanctuary, visit www.thekaratechimp.com/primatesanctuary.htm.

The National Geographic Channel can be found on Adelphia cable, channel 120; Dish Network, channel 186; and DirecTV, channel 276.

A clip of the episode with Presti, Charlie and Kiko, is posted on the Web site http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/se ries/explorer/4090/Overview#tab-Videos/07188_00.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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