(CN) - An Alabama zoo has held a male chimpanzee in isolation for nearly 17 years in violation of the Endangered Species Act, PETA claims in federal court.
In a complaint filed in the Mobile, Ala. Federal Court, the Virginia-based animal-rights group claims the Mobile Zoo and its director, John Hightower, have confined the chimpanzee known as Joe alone in a Wilmer, Ala. roadside zoo for nearly seventeen years. "Defendants keep Joe in a barren enclosure with only an old tire, a few hoses, and a handful of toddler toys for 'entertainment,'" the Jan. 19 complaint says.
According to PETA, Joe is kept behind a "double chain link fence," with no other barrier separating him from the viewing public.
They also claim the zoo "encouraged visiting members of the public to throw peanuts at Joe, causing him great distress."
The lawsuit claims a former zoo employee, co-plaintiff Sallie Lane, provided care to several animals which included feeding Joe on a daily basis.
Given her close work with the animals, she was able to see firsthand the lack of adequate care being provided the chimpanzee, the lawsuit says.
"Mr. Hightower ordered that Joe be fed only one meal per day. If Joe did not finish his meal from the previous day, Mr. Hightower directed Ms. Lane not to feed him until the following day," the complaint says.
According to PETA, Lane was also able to observe Joe's constant state of agitation, which resulted in part from the harassment he allegedly received at the hands of the guests, "poking him with sticks or tossing dirt at him through his chain link outdoor enclosure."
Despite Lane's requests to improve Joe's conditions, however, the alleged mistreatment continued, leading to her ultimate decision to leave the zoo.
According to the complaint, chimpanzees are "highly social and exceptionally intelligent animals who, in their natural environment, engage in a wide range of complex social relations with other members of their species."
Because they're considered endangered under the Endangered Species Act, chimpanzees are entitled to live in environments that meet their specific needs, such as "foraging, nest-building, climbing, play, tool use, and socializing."
According to the complaint, the zoo has deprived Joe of both social interaction and a complex environment.
Plaintiffs claim the deprivation is harmful to both his "physical and psychological health, and constitutes harassment by depriving him of the ability to engage in species-typical behaviors."
Joe's treatment at the zoo has allegedly resulted in abnormal hair loss due to over-grooming, a symptom of "social isolation and lack of psychological stimulation."
The USDA has issued "numerous and repeated citations" to the zoo, citing its failure to provide minimal care to Joe, as required by the Animal Welfare Act.
Its most recent inspection found numerous infractions included food spoilage that led to maggot infestation and nails sticking out of structures.
PETA seeks injunctive relief and an order that the defendants "comply with the ESA by relinquishing Joe to a sanctuary accredited by the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance."
The plaintiffs, which also include animal welfare advocate Anna Ware, are represented by Mobile attorney Henry Brewster and PETA attorneys Matthew Strugar and Caitlin Hawks.
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