Approximately 12 animals — including a chimpanzee, monkeys and lemurs — have died at a San Antonio primate sanctuary after winter storms cut off heat and electricity amid plunging temperatures in Texas.
Primarily Primates, a nonprofit sanctuary in Bexar County, said in a Wednesday statement that it lost power early Monday morning during the "historic freeze," which is also blamed in the deaths of at least 20 people.
Single-digit temperatures were recorded in San Antonio, and the average has been hovering around 28 degrees.
The historic freeze in Tx has taken a toll, + we thank all volunteers, staff + donors for efforts that have evacuated many doz. of animals and kept others, includ. 32 chimps, baboons, monkeys + lemurs in heated bedrooms. Approx. 12 lives lost.— Primarily Primates (@primate_refuge) February 17, 2021
Staff at the 70-acre sanctuary initially attempted to use generators, space heaters, propane tanks and blankets to keep the animals warm.
Brooke Chavez, executive director of Primarily Primates, told The San Antonio Express-News that they decided later Monday evening to begin evacuating animals. Some were sent to the San Antonio Zoo and to another sanctuary near Oklahoma.
“I’ve never faced a decision like this,” said Chavez. “Having to decide who we can save, depending on the predictability of which animals we can catch.”
As they began rounding up animals for transport, they discovered several had already died.
“I never, ever thought my office would turn into a morgue, but it has,” Chavez told the Express-News on Tuesday. “Someone asked me how many animals have died. I don’t know yet.”
Primarily Primates was the first primate sanctuary founded in North America. The facility holds more than 300 animals, mostly ones that were abused or exploited for research or entertainment purposes.
The sanctuary's oldest chimp, 58-year-old Violet, was among the animals that died. She had previously been rescued from biomedical research and had pre-existing conditions. However, she likely died from a stroke and not hypothermia.
Tamara Kruse, assistant director of veterinarian care at the San Antonio Zoo, told the Express-News that some animals evacuated from the sanctuary were biting at their fingers and tails, which can be an indicator of frostbite. Some were also showing respiratory symptoms like wheezing and sneezing.
Several animals were treated with antibiotics, pain and anti-inflammatory medications, and they all appeared to be doing better as of Tuesday night, Kruse said.
“We’re going to continue to let them settle in,” she said. “We’ll determine if there’s anything else we need to do if issues pop up.”
The remaining animals are being kept at Primarily Primates in heated bedrooms.
The organization is asking for donations of any available propane tanks, generators, flashlights and gasoline. They have also requested peanut butter, jelly and bread.
*2/17 UPDATE* The sanctuary has been hit hard by the winter storms. Here is the new list of items we need. If you have...Posted by Primarily Primates on Monday, February 15, 2021
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, which has managed the sanctuary since 2007, applauded the more than 60 volunteers who have organized assistance, some even driving in "treacherous conditions" to bring supplies.
"Their kindness brings some comfort during this nightmare. They are heroes, and so are our staff members," Feral wrote in a statement.
At least 20 people have died from the record-breaking winter storm that slammed the South and Midwest this week.
More than 3 million Texans remained without power as of Wednesday morning, according to poweroutage.us.