Chimp Farm loses its license

Published April 6, 1999|Updated Sept. 29, 2005

The Chimp Farm, a roadside attraction on Alt. U.S. 19 for nearly 50 years, has lost the federal license that allowed it to exhibit a menagerie of monkeys, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and a dancing bear.

After urging the Chimp Farm to improve conditions for its animals for four years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revoked the facility's license effective at the end of March.

The Chimp Farm can keep the animals, but it cannot allow the public to come in and see them.

The facility's owners could appeal the USDA's decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They also could reapply for a federal license after fixing up the facility, but there are no guarantees they could ever open the Chimp Farm to the public again, said USDA spokesman Jim Rogers.

"Since their license was revoked, I think they can apply, but I think it would be unlikely that they would get one," he said.

Debbie Fletcher, the head caretaker and granddaughter of the Chimp Farm's founders, could not be reached for comment Monday. But her uncle, Robert E. Noell Sr., said the family will continue to take care of the animals.

"It's been there for 50 years and we're going to try to keep it there," said Noell, son of Chimp Farm founders Bob and Mae Noell. "The thing we're really short on is a fund-raiser, someone who knows how to go out and ask for money. It's a run-down establishment. It needs a face lift, but it needs the money to be able to do that."

The USDA's animal inspection division charged in August 1998 that cages at the Chimp Farm were rusty, small, dirty and had jagged edges; up-to-date records about the animals were not maintained; food and bedding were improperly stored; and animals were housed in uncomfortable conditions.

The charges stemmed from four surprise inspections between Nov. 15, 1995, and April 1, 1998.

Chimp Farm officials responded 29 days late to the USDA's charges, so on Nov. 3, administrative law judge Edwin S. Bernstein revoked the facility's license and fined it $25,000.

The Chimp Farm appealed to the USDA in December, saying it responded late because it did not have an attorney and because Mae Noell, 85, had been sick and in the hospital.

In the most recent decision, USDA Judicial Officer William G. Jenson ruled against the Chimp Farm, revoking its license and reinstating the $25,000 fine.

Animal rights activists have picketed the Chimp Farm for years, saying the conditions are deplorable.

Chimp Farm supporters announced last year that they would try to raise enough money to replace the facility's cages with a more natural setting for the animals to live in.

But such an effort takes money the Chimp Farm does not have.

"It needs somebody with deep pockets to come in there and say, "You need a few more dollars,' " Robert Noell Sr. said. "What it's had for years is just enough to get by."