A chimp named Chico is at the center of a controversy over his rights.
Owners Archie and Kathleen Futrell of Myrtle Beach, S.C., have had the chimpanzee for 15 years and raised him since he was only two. After Kathleen inherited more than 500 acres of land, she started collecting animals and eventually opened a zoo to the public so area schoolchildren could visit Chico and the rest of the menagerie.
"It's not a financial thing — it's something we love and something we like people to come back to," Kathleen Futrell, 66, said of the roadside Waccatee Zoo, north of Myrtle Beach.
But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are going bananas over Chico's situation. They want the Futrells to give the monkey up because they say his isolation from other chimps is inhumane.
"This is about the lone chimpanzee who has been in solitary confinement for seventeen years," said PETA spokeswoman Jane Garrison. "There is not a zoo in the country that would ever dream of keeping a chimpanzee like this. This zoo needs to do what's right for Chico, not what's right for their bank account."
The Futrells counter that they treat Chico as if he were their own child — and that he doesn't seem to be suffering at all.
"He's like our son. He's just about as happy as any animal I have ever seen," Kathleen said. "I can tell it; you can see it in his eyes. There is no loneliness there."
The animal-rights group went to Waccatee Zoo while it was open and videotaped Chico alone in his cage, then gathered comments from primatologists who said chimpanzees need other chimps around to be happy.
"You have an animal living in an abusive situation who should be moved to a sanctuary where he can be with other chimps," Garrison said. "It's about what is best for this chimpanzee."
In addition to defending their care of Chico, the Futrells say the zoo is perfectly legal. They applied for the license with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and met all the safety and other qualifications.
"They can not legally take Chico from us because as long as we are treating him right and we're doing right by the USDA, then he is ours," Kathleen said. "We told Ms. Garrison that we had always provided for Chico and we were going to continue to do so — and then the battle began."
PETA has given the Futrells an ultimatum: Send Chico off to a sanctuary or suffer the consequences. If the couple refuses, Garrison warned, "they'll be in the middle of eight animal-protection organizations who are very upset about Chico's situation."
Archie, 78, said that if the Department of Agriculture requires them to get a friend for Chico, they'll oblige. They're prepared to build a facility to house a few chimps if necessary.
"If they say we got to get a monkey or two, we will do it — only for them, not for PETA," he said. "They (PETA members) are glad this is happening. It's profitable to them."
Chico has never even seen another chimpanzee, and the Futrells say there's no evidence of the "mental abuse" the group claims their pet is the victim of.
"We know that the chimp is taken care of and he is happy; he is not lonely and he is entertained," Kathleen said. "The bottom line is we are going to stick by Chico til the very end. And when the very end comes, we are still going to stick by Chico. We love him."