Two chimpanzees who appeared in numerous movies and TV shows were removed from a ranch and will retire to a sanctuary to settle a lawsuit alleging animal cruelty, an animal rights group said.
The chimps were trucked out of San Bernardino on Saturday and were expected to arrive at their new home in New Mexico on Sunday, said Lisa Franzetta, a spokeswoman for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. A third chimp will be shipped to Florida next week, she said.
"We're thrilled that they're not going to be forced to perform unwillingly anymore," Franzetta said. "This is such a happy day to see these chimpanzees being retired."
The chimps have appeared in productions such as TV's "That 70s Show" and "The Craig Kilborn Show," and the upcoming movie "Evan Almighty." They were raised from a young age by trainer Sid Yost, who runs Amazing Animal Productions Inc.
Animal Legal Defense Fund and other groups sued Yost last year in federal court, accusing him of beating the chimps with sticks, using an electric shock stick on them and punching, taunting and intimidating the animals.
Yost did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement.
The defense fund is part of a coalition of primatologists, attorneys, scientists and actors who have started a campaign called "No Reel Apes" to call for an end to the use of primates in entertainment. They contend apes are poorly treated and infants are often separated from their mothers.
Sarah Baeckler, a primatologist with a group called the Chimpanzee Collaboratory who worked undercover at Yost's San Bernardino ranch, claims she saw the chimps being beaten to make them perform.
Yost denied abusing the animals and said he was unhappy the chimps were leaving.
"I love 'em and I'll miss 'em," he said last week in a telephone interview.
Yost said he was legally forbidden to reveal details of the settlement. But Tobin Dunlea, who has been an animal trainer at the ranch for seven years, said Yost agreed to give up the chimps and can no longer own or work with primates.
Dunlea also denied that the animals were abused.
"They love us and they trust and that's why we've done so well with them in the business," she said.
Dunlea said Sable, a female, and Cody, a male, have lived at the ranch for about five years. Both are 6 1/2. Angel, a female that is nearly 10, was acquired when she was about three days old.
Chimps can live 50 to 60 years.
Dunlea said she worried that the animals would be traumatized from their journey, especially Angel, who dislikes traveling.
"I've been crying for days," she said. "I'm just trying to hope and pray that they will survive."
Franzetta said Sable and Cody will remain in New Mexico, where they have relatives, for an adjustment period. The plan is for them to eventually rejoin Angel in a Florida sanctuary that houses dozens of primates on a series of islands, she said.