Hernando Primate Sanctuary

Hernando Primate Sanctuary

Hernando Primate Sanctuary is a privately owned pseudo-sanctuary in Brooksville, Florida, owned and operated by Ann Kelly and her husband Kerry in their 10-acre backyard. Hernando Primate is a registered Florida nonprofit and is licensed to house exotic animals that have been seized by the state, but it has more in common with a backyard zoo than a true rescue. They do a lot of things that a true sanctuary would never do. Their monkeys are trained to do tricks on command,

their animals are treated like pets, taken to community events for “animal interactions”, and allowed to breed, and guests to the “sanctuary” are often encouraged to have direct contact with the animals, even potentially dangerous ones like adult big cats and chimpanzees. Hernando Primate is “accredited” by the ZAA and affiliated with the Feline Conservation Federation, the USZA, and UAPPEAL, all networking organizations for private exotics owners and breeders.

As you noted, Hernando Primate just got a new USDA exhibitor’s license. According to the ZAA factsheet, their previous one, 58-C-0970, was cited for filthy cages, enclosures in disrepair, unsanitary food storage, housing together incompatible species, an unsafe lion enclosure, failure to have an environmental enrichment plan for a newly acquired chimpanzee, and having only one inexperienced employee to care for all the animals at the facility” between 2011 and 2013. In 2014, this license was canceled.

As of 2011, the last time their website was online, Hernando Primate claimed to have one cougar (Nikita), one serval (Reggie), two lions (male Masai and female Mchumba), and a tiger (Kali).  I know that they have at least 3 tigers today, and guests have reported seeing a lynx there as well.

At least some of the animals at Hernando were purchased by Kelly from dealers, breeders, or other owners, and not particularly good ones, either. In 2013, James Casey, an abusive chimpanzee breeder, was caught by wildlife law enforcement in Brooksville attempting to sell 3 chimpanzees to Kelly and her “sanctuary,” even though he had his USDA permit revoked for “improper care” of his chimps and Kelly already had more animals than her facility’s permit allowed. Casey had been cited by the USDA for living in a squalid, feces-filled travel trailer with his chimps, and had admitted to punching them and throwing scalding hot tea on them as punishment for “misbehaving.” Part of Casey’s own nose has been bitten off by one of his primates, and he was the man who bred and sold a chimp named Travis to Charla Nash, who later needed a face transplant after her pet mauled her. Ironically, the chimpanzees in this case were seized by law enforcement and eventually “re-homed” at Hernando Primate.

According to this 2009 article (which can’t seem to decide if the facility is a “rescue” or a “zoo”),  Reggie the serval lived in Kelly’s house as a kitten until he started jumping on the refrigerator, when he was moved to an outdoor enclosure. The article also says that the “sanctuary” hosts barbecues and has a bounce house for kids to play in, and that the female lioness was pregnant, which made Kelly “excited.” This brings me to my next point:

I strongly suspect that they tend to obtain new cats by “rescuing” them from breeders as young cubs,

or that they simply allow nature to take its course if two intact cats are housed together. When they do have cubs, they are more than willing to allow the public to feed and play with them as long as it’s feasible — in 2010, their website encouraged visitors to come and “feed the baby tiger his bottle.” Incidentally, that same tiger still lives at Hernando, and is still being fed bottles of kitten milk replacer by guests. There’s a rather disturbing Youtube video of this. (As a side note, it’s possible that the primates are also allowed to breed, as their old website mentions the fact that volunteers are needed to care for “newborns.”)

Hernando Primate is big on allowing visitors to have direct contact with their animals and advertised “once in a lifetime animal encounters” on their webpage. Unfortunately, some of these encounters come at the expense of public safety. Here’s a photo of a guest cuddling with a fully-mature chimpanzee, and here are several photos of guests allowing adult tigers to lick their hands through the chain-link fence.  Ann actually encourages these dangerous stunts.

In this video, we see two clearly agitated tigers frantically pacing back and forth along the fence separating them, seemingly out of frustration (the orange tiger is male and the white one is female). One of the visitors talks about how “we all got to bottlefeed him when he was little,” to which Ann responds: “He’d probably love to have a bottle right now, too.” Then, Ann proceeds to instruct the children to place their hands on the cage of the still-agitated white tiger so that she’ll come and lick their hands. Mom reassures the understandably reluctant kids that “he can’t get you through the fence” — tell that to this poor guy, who had his thumb bitten off just by accidentally leaning against a tiger enclosure at another Florida pseudo-sanctuary.  At the end of the video, a little boy puts his hand in front of another white tiger, who tries to lick and paw at him as if he were a toy. Thankfully, the boy got to feel the tiger’s whiskers without getting hurt — this time. I honestly do not understand why parents think that allowing their children to be licked by tigers in someone’s backyard is a safe or amusing family activity — in virtually every big cat mauling involving children, the parents were reassured by the owner that the animal is “safe.”
4 years ago, Hernando Primate brought their lemurs and monkeys to a Home Depot parking lot in dog crates so they could provide exotic animal interactions for a community event — not something a sanctuary does. They also advertised a 4th of July party at their facility, where visitors could donate $10 to play “tug of war” with the tigers and engage in other animal interactions.

This Facebook album includes several photos of the cats at Hernando Primate, including Ann Kelly and her visitors petting Reggie the serval. The uploader of the album refers to the animals as Ann’s “pets”, which probably isn’t too far off the mark. Some of the tiger enclosures don’t look too bad for a private facility, but, as mentioned earlier, there sometimes doesn’t appear to be anything between the visitors and the cats but a single layer of chainlink fence (note the fingers in the cage.) I don’t think that’s legal. This Facebook album shows more cat enclosures,and so does this video slideshow.

Unfortunately,  this male lion seems to have a sore or a patch of fur missing on both sides of his face (but perhaps it’s just age — that particular cat is 17 years old). This album contains not-so-pretty pictures of  tigers crammed in a small indoor holding area, and this one shows a whole bunch of irresponsible and dangerous “interactions,” including a tiger licking and pawing at a guest’s arm and an adult chimpanzee wearing a leash and a diaper and “kissing” people on the face with bared teeth.

In short, while this pseudo-sanctuary isn’t malicious, it’s definitely irresponsible, and an accident waiting to happen.

I also discovered that a new business called Florida Exotic Feathers has recently been founded by Ann Kelly at the same address as Hernando Primate. This could be an aviary/exotic bird interaction business, but the name sounds more to me like it’s a bird breeding operation. If so, what is it doing at a “sanctuary?”

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