The name Candy the chimpanzee might bring back memories of trips to the now-closed Fun Fair Park or episodes of the old Buckskin Bill Show, but a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks to move her from her current home at Dixie Landin to a sanctuary where she can bond with other chimps.
A national animal rights group representing Louisiana people and groups filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge against Dixie Landin’ LLC and its owner Sam Haynes Jr. over the future care and living conditions of their resident chimpanzee, Candy.
It’s the latest in a string of efforts dating back decades to get the chimpanzee into a sanctuary, which has faced constant opposition from the Haynes family who she’s been with since she was 6 months old.
The lawsuit says keeping Candy alone in a cage is cruel and it’s contrary to current federal law that requires primate exhibits have an environment that supports physical and mental health.
“Candy’s plight is well known. She’s on display for the world to see,” said Carter Dillard, Animal Legal Defense Funds’ director of litigation. “As our experts will show, this is a barbaric and archaic situation.”
The lawsuit claims that Candy’s confinement rises to the level of neglect and isolation which violates the Endangered Species Act.
Cathy Willis Spraetz, president and CEO of Chimp Haven sanctuary in north Louisiana, said she and staff visited Candy several times, the first time to offer tips to the owners, such as providing stimuli to keep her mind active.
“We went back in the last three to four months and she had no enrichment in her cage. No bedding. Really nothing more than a tricycle,” Spraetz said.
Although she appeared well fed, she seemed depressed and bored. One of the signs of this is an abnormal behavior of rocking back and forth in one spot to create any stimulus.
Spraetz said she has no doubt that the family is very attached to Candy and do the best they can, but it’s no substitute for the social interactions that chimpanzees crave.
“The best of all worlds is for chimpanzees to live in large groups,” she said.
Filed on behalf of Cathy Breaux and Holly Reynolds, long-time animal activists in Baton Rouge, as well as the Coalition of Louisiana Animal Advocates, the lawsuit comes following a change in the interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, Dillard said.
The federal change in interpretation means chimpanzees in captivity now share their wild counterparts designation as endangered. There are now more requirements to keep a captive chimpanzee and more leverage for getting a court to send her to a chimpanzee sanctuary.
“When the misinterpretation stood, it made the situation complex,” Dillard said. “This is clear now.”
Before filing suit, Dillard said, notice letters were sent to Haynes to let him know of the intention to file suit, but the option to move Candy was refused.
“We think her treatment shows that they’re interested in using her to make money instead of giving her the life she deserves,” Dillard said.
Calls to Haynes were not returned Tuesday. In past attempts to move Candy, Haynes and family members have fought to keep her as a treasured pet and member of the family.
Purchased by the Haynes family in 1965 at the age of six months, Candy has spent her life with the Haynes both in performing and as an attraction at the family’s two amusement parks.
Candy was joined by five other chimpanzees in the late 1960s when a retired circus trainer joined the family’s Fun Fair Park at Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway in a Chimpville Revue performance. She also was a regular on the Buckskin Bill Show for a decade or more. In a 1987 interview, Sam Haynes Jr. said Candy was crucial to the show’s effort to get a zoo built in Baton Rouge.
Haynes said he remembered daily trips to the television studio when, “Candy would follow him to the car and ride on the armrest on the way to her televised appearances.”
Attitudes in town seemed to shift a few years later when in 1989 Hilton Cole, city-parish animal control director, and some animal welfare advocates raised concerns about Candy’s living conditions. At the time, Cole said he was working on a new local ordinance that would better regulate the keeping of wild and exotic animals.
The effort even attracted the attention of primate expert Jane Goodall who sent letters to Haynes, as well as U.S. Sens. John Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston, Gov. Buddy Roemer and Mayor-President Tom Ed McHugh.
A few months later, Candy moved into a bigger home at the Fun Fair Park. Haynes said it didn’t have to do with the increased attention, but only because the old one needed to be replaced.
Protests also began at the park asking for Candy to be released to a chimpanzee sanctuary. Haynes, tiring of the criticism, said people needed to find something better to do with their time, calling some protesters “professional chimpanzee chasers.” He said Candy was in good health, her cage met legal requirements and he had no intention of parting with her.
“She’s just like a member of the family,” Haynes said in 1989.
Legislation was filed in 1997 to have Candy be released to a sanctuary, but the bill died after a hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee.
At the hearing, family members testified in tears about the possibility of losing Candy, considered like a family member. They added two attempts were made to put her in the Baton Rouge Zoo, but she kept escaping and was teaching the other chimpanzees how to do it, so zoo officials asked the family to take Candy back.
Fun Fair Park closed in early 1999 and Candy was moved to Dixie Landin’.
Her enclosure is larger, but it doesn’t include any companionship that chimpanzees crave, Dillard said.
The lawsuit cites the National Research Council’s Committee on Long-term Care of chimpanzees, which said, “all chimpanzees in long-term situations should be housed minimally in pairs and preferably in social groups of three or more compatible individuals.”
Even at age 50, Spraetz said, Candy could have a decade or more of life after being introduced into a larger social group.
“It’s a slow introduction, but when it happens it’s beautiful,” she said.
There are about 182 chimpanzees at Chimp Haven, where the lawsuit says they’d like to see Candy go.
“We have several female chimpanzees in their late 50s and they’re doing fine,” she said.
Candy, too, is in her twilight years.
“It’d be a shame to see her die in that cage,” Dillard said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.