Update: Staples responded to us Tuesday; see the end of the story for his answer to the USDA's allegations.
It was the slap seen 'round the world: a capuchin monkey bopped Great Day Houston host Deborah Duncan in the face in April, and almost everyone thought it was super-cute.
Of course, the party-poopers at PETA didn't think it was cute, especially given the track record of Brian Staples, the guy who runs the Washington-based Staples Safari Zoo, which exhibits exotic animals at fairs and, apparently, morning talk shows. The USDA in November accused Staples of keeping animals in shit-stained cages and possessing medication that had expired as many as four years before the most recent inspection. What a hoot!
PETA is asking USDA investigators to see whether Staples violated Animal Welfare Act "regulations against allowing direct contact between members of the public and animals and exhibiting animals that causes them stress."
In a letter to the USDA's western regional director, a PETA attorney wrote, "As you are investigating Staples, please keep in mind his history of animal neglect and public endangerment, as well as bite, disease transmission, and other risks that are inherent in allowing people to come into direct contact with monkeys, including capuchins."
The bite bit is in reference to a Staples-owned capuchin who escaped from his cage at a fair in Minnesota and bit two people, who subsequently underwent painful rabies shots. Yikes.
According to the Winona Daily News, Staples said the monkey "likely would not have bitten anyone if people had not chased and cornered it." Well, yeah. It also wouldn't have bitten anyone if it stayed in the freaking cage. But hey, just 'cause you tote monkeys around the country for entertainment doesn't mean you can keep tabs on them 24-7, right? Right?
The USDA's November 2013 complaint states that Staples "held nineteen nonhuman primates, including three baboons, and three large felids, in addition to camelids, marsupials, and other exotic, wild, and domestic mammals" and accused him of "willful violation" of regulations.
These included maintaining "antiseptic and wound dressing spray that had expired nearly four years earlier," and allowing a capuchin to escape from an enclosure in Georgia in 2011 for two days, "during which time temperatures were near freezing."
Maybe dude should invest in a freaking monkey leash.
But that's not all. The USDA complaint alleges the following (among others):
- A monkey "food and bedding storage area contained trash, debris, and toxic substances (including...bleach, pesticides, and an open bag of lime.)"
-"The primary enclosure housing a capuchin, a bush baby, and a ring-tailed lemur had not been cleaned as required, and contained excreta and accumulated food waste on the floor and walls."
-"The enclosure housing three large felids was excessively caked with feces combined with urine."
-"The enclosure housing a kangaroo was not maintained in a manner that would not cause injury to the animals, and specifically, there was a rusty, jagged hole in the gate on the interior of the trailer housing the kangaroo."
Staples did not respond to requests for comment. There is no record of Staples filing a response addressing the claims, and no hearing has been scheduled.
Update: Staples sent us copies of responses addressed to the USDA, explaining that he would have rebutted the allegations in the November complaint earlier, except the attorney who received all Staples' mail had been suspended from practice for two years and neglected to pass along Staples' mail. Wow.
As for that escaped capuchin, Staples writes: "Visual contact had been made within minutes in a local barn approximately 100 yards away. Once visual contact was made, the capuchin, although not yet recovered, was continuously guarded and his needs were adequately cared for. The handlers were on the scene where the capuchin was located. Blankeys and a heat pad were provided to the site, along with food, water, and a live trap....The total time out was less than 41 hours, but more importantly, the capuchin's whereabouts were known and thus special care was taken to provide for his sustenance and warmth."
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Staples also writes that the hole in the kangaroo pen was repaired at the time of the inspection.
He also writes that all "sanitation issues were corrected immediately as per standard protocol," and accuses inspector Kimberley Duffiney, of being overzealous: "...she bragged on how she was the one responsible for the revocation of license to Amazing Exotics in Florida, and how she had been responsible for countless traveling exhibits to also [lose] their licenses. She also said that she wasn't afraid to write up Ringling Brothers."
He writes: "In summary, it seems that in every situation where it was possible to investigate more thoroughly and resolve an issue, Ms. Duffiney chose to take the opposite route and book a violation instead, without considering or reviewing exculpatory materials presented to her....This licensee has been working in the field of animal care for many years and has never come upon such an inspector. Each time I would challenge or try to explain a situation, her response was aggressive, and each time she would state that I [didn't] have to like what she wrote, I could write to the main office to challenge her report. Soon I realized to simply stay quiet and allow her to demonstrate her alpha position in front of the other law enforcement. (As a behaviorist, it was an easy observation to identify.)"
We'll keep you posted on any developments.