REPORTER: Jeff Ferrell
Chimp Haven opened its doors to KSLA News 12 in response to a lawsuit from some donors and supporters claiming mismanagement and poor care. That group is calling on the firing of the directors. But Chimp Haven leadership calls the claims false.
It was a day of fun in the sun for the chimpanzees we saw at Chimp Haven in Keithville, in south Caddo Parish. Spokesman Rick Delahaya told us that the lawsuit accusing mismanagement surprised them so much because of its timing. "We're very shocked to read the allegations concerning Chimp Haven, especially since we've been enjoying so much success this past year." He said that success includes an increase from 31 to now 89 retired chimps in their care at the sanctuary.
The plaintiffs sent us the following statement: "This lawsuit was initiated as a last resort by a group of concerned citizens who put a lot of their heart, effort and resources into bringing Chimp Haven to Shreveport. We are deeply concerned about the well-being of the chimpanzees and the future of Chimp Haven..." "...We now believe these goals can be achieved only through changes in the management, overall direction and operating procedures of Chimp Haven."
The lawsuit claims the death of a chimp named Woodruff is just one example of mismanagement, dying of a heart attack while placed with three aggressive males. Staff cannot speak on legal issues, only telling us the chimps are getting the best care possible.
"They like to play chase with each other, they like to wrestle, they'll tickle. Chimps actually laugh with each other and they make kind uh, ohhhhh," said Amy Fultz. She is the haven's behavioral primatologist. Because Fultz is personally named in the lawsuit she cannot comment on the case, but did help guide us through just a fraction of the 200-acre property.
Chimp Haven leaders fear the lawsuit will hurt fundraising efforts to complete the 2-million dollars in work on Phase Two of construction. Of course, the lawsuit claims mismanagement is already having that effect.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Julie Blewer, told KSLA News 12 that the next step in the process is awaiting the formal legal response from Chimp Haven. She expects that to happen in the next few weeks.