By Matthew Liebman
Last Friday afternoon, I was working on a brief in a lawsuit we filed to rescue a lonely chimpanzee named Archie from a solitary cage at a pathetic roadside zoo, when I learned that, just a few hours earlier, Archie had died in a fire.
It’s the kind of news that stops you cold and forces you to confirm it, over and over again. And once the reality sinks in, you start to ask yourself those nagging questions: Could I have done anything to prevent this? What if I had acted more quickly? What if I had tried harder to save him? Of course, ultimately the responsibility for Archie’s death lies with those who held him captive, but still the questions linger.
Here’s how we described Archie’s life at North Carolina’s King Kong Zoo in our lawsuit:
"Among the suffering animals at King Kong Zoo is Archie, a chimpanzee confined in isolation in a chain link cage with a concrete floor. Archie spends his days sitting or lying alone in his cage. Archie is a member of an intensely social species, members of which often decline into extreme psychological and physical suffering when isolated. The only “enrichment” available to Archie is a tire swing and a blanket. Archie consistently displays tell-tale signs of extreme psychological suffering, which now also manifest in forms of self-abuse and physical suffering including compulsive hair-plucking, which has left bare patches on his arms. Archie displays symptoms of extreme psychological and physical distress and suffering that would be expected in isolated captive chimpanzees."
Both before and after filing the lawsuit, ALDF offered to assist King Kong Zoo in moving Archie to a reputable sanctuary that could give him the kind of care and environment that he so desperately needed and deserved: interacting with other chimpanzees with grass under his feet and the sky above, under the supervision of expert veterinarians and caregivers. Instead of taking us up on our offer, King Kong Zoo’s owner, John Curtis, decided to ship Archie off to Hollywild, a horrible roadside zoo in South Carolina under investigation by the USDA for chronic and repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Just a few months after arriving at Hollywild, Archie died of smoke inhalation from an electrical fire in Hollywild’s “primate barn.” Twenty-seven other animals died along with him. Shockingly, Hollywild’s veterinarian said, “It appears it was a quick and painless death for the animals that died.” One shudders to think this is the person in charge of animal care.
After all he had been through, Archie deserved to breathe his last breath in the fresh air of a loving sanctuary, not choke to death on smoke from an electrical fire behind bars at a dilapidated roadside menagerie. We tried to rescue Archie, but we didn’t get there soon enough. That hurts. A lot. But we haven’t given up on our case against King Kong Zoo. We’re determined to keep King Kong Zoo and John Curtis, who consigned Archie to a life of misery and a horrific death, from ever owning animals again. In fact, our opening appellate brief is being filed today. Archie’s life was tragic; we won’t let his death be in vain.