Lawsuit seeks to move Candy the chimpanzee from Dixie Landin'; calls her living situation ‘barbaric and archaic’ _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by John Boss -- A police officer returns the stare of Candi, a chimpanzee that escaped from its cage at the old Fun Fair Park near Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway in December of 1991. Candi, now 50 years old, is now living at Dixie Landin' amusement park.

Despite animal rights advocates’ allegations to the contrary, Candy the chimpanzee is healthy and happy at Dixie Landin’ amusement park in Baton Rouge, and efforts to move the 50-year-old primate to a north Louisiana sanctuary could prove harmful or even lead to her death, her owners contend.

Responding for the first time to a federal lawsuit filed in November, Dixie Landin’ and owner Sam Haynes Jr. says in court documents that a previous attempt to introduce Candy into a troop of chimps at the Baton Rouge Zoo was an “absolute failure.”

“Candy identifies with members of the Haynes family as her ‘troop.’ If she is taken out of her present environment, Candy would be harmed both physically and psychologically,” Michael Reese Davis, John W. Perry Jr. and other attorneys for Dixie Landin’ and Haynes argue in documents filed earlier this month.

The Haynes family has owned Candy since she was 6 months old. In the past, the chimp performed at the now-closed Fun Fair Park in Baton Rouge and also appeared regularly on the old “Buckskin Bill” show before moving to Dixie Landin’ in the late 1990s.

Haynes family members have said previously that an attempt at one point to place Candy at the Baton Rouge Zoo didn’t work out. She kept escaping and was teaching the other chimps how to flee, they said, so zoo officials asked them to take her back.

“The best thing for Candy is for her to live out the remainder of her life at Dixie Landin,” the lawyers representing the chimp’s owners claim in their response to the federal suit filed by animal rights activists.

But the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national animal rights group representing Louisiana residents and groups, alleges in the suit that keeping Candy alone in a cage is cruel, barbaric, archaic and goes against current federal law that mandates primate exhibits support an animal’s physical and mental health.

In federal court documents jointly filed Feb. 4 by both sides of the legal battle, attorneys for the Coalition of Louisiana Animal Advocates and others say Candy currently is capable of being moved, but they warn that the court case must proceed quickly if she is to have “any hope of enjoying a life appropriate for a chimpanzee.”

“Prominent chimpanzee experts agree that Candy is being harassed and harmed because the conditions of her confinement significantly disrupt normal chimpanzee behavioral patterns and cause her to suffer physical and psychological injuries,” lawyers Emily Posner, Matthew Liebman and Ken Levy allege in the Feb. 4 status report to U.S. District Judge James Brady.

Chimp Haven, a nationally renowned chimpanzee sanctuary in north Louisiana, is ready to provide Candy a new home in a naturalistic enclosure suited to her physical, behavioral and psychological needs, the lawyers note.

In the status report, though, attorneys for Candy’s owners say a Chimp Haven representative agreed she should remain in familiar surroundings and around familiar humans.

But attorneys for the animal rights advocates say in the same document that Chimp Haven has never endorsed Candy’s confinement by Dixie Landin’ and Haynes.

Candy’s veterinarian agrees she should remain where she is, attorneys for her owners maintain, while lawyers for the animal rights advocates say Chimp Haven’s lead veterinarian and behaviorist is willing to testify that Candy is healthy enough to be relocated to the sanctuary.

Attorneys for Candy’s owners point out she would have to be tranquilized to be moved, which has proven problematic in the past.

“Candy has not reacted well to the mere sight of a tranquilizer gun, including losing control of her bladder and bowels,” the attorneys state. “Subjecting Candy to a tranquilizer gun, especially at her advanced age, could cause cardiac arrest and even death.”

Animal Legal Defense Fund senior attorney Matthew Liebman reiterated Friday that the claim by Candy’s owners that Chimp Haven believes she is too old to move and condones her captivity at Dixie Landin’ “is just false.”

Haynes, according to lawyers for the chimp’s owners, has provided Candy with proper veterinarian care, a proper veterinarian-approved diet, a large habitat and an enrichment plan.

Dixie Landin’ and Haynes are asking Brady to dismiss the lawsuit.