Media Release 26/11

Media Release after the NSPCA’s public release of a video and post on their Facebook page.

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KwaZulu-Natal-based monkey rescue organization, Monkey Helpline is appalled by the decision of the National Council of SPCA’s (NSPCA)to issue a media statement on its findings during a recent inspection of the primate rescue and education organisation’s facility based in Westville, Durban.

“We believe that the NSPCA has acted in bad faith and view this action on the part of the NSPCA as a deliberate and retaliatory attempt to undermine the integrity of Monkey Helpline after we recently criticized their primate euthanasia ruling publicly on their Facebook page, and challenged the NSPCA to convene provincial meetings for all interested and affected parties to address the crisis facing indigenous primates in South Africa”, said Monkey Helpline founder, Steve Smit.  “Needless to say the NSPCA has not responded to our call for the holding of these meetings.

The controversial ruling by the NSPCA, arrived at without any constructive engagement with members of the primate care community, that any sick or injured baboon or monkey brought in to an SPCA will summarily be euthanased, or if it is a healthy animal it will be kept for five days and then euthanased if not “claimed” by a NSPCA accredited and permitted primate facility, has infuriated animal lovers across South Africa and abroad and has resulted in much criticism of the NSPCA.  Monkey Helpline has been at the forefront of public criticism of the NSPCA  and has even started a Causes petition on Facebook calling on the NSPCA to abandon this policy.

Two weeks ago the NSPCA sent its senior wildlife inspector, Sister Ainsley Hay, accompanied by an inspector and the manager of the Kloof and Highway SPCA, to the Westville premises where Monkey Helpline is based, ostensibly to carry out an inspection following a “complaint” by a member of the public that Monkey Helpline was hoarding three hundred and seventy-five monkeys in sub-standard conditions.  When challenged on this by Steve Smit the NSPCA inspector denied that the visit was a strong arm tactic by the NSPCA intended to bully Monkey Helpline into submission after it’s public challenging of the NSPCA’s controversial primate euthanasia ruling.

“It is our considered opinion that this entire exercise had nothing to do a so-called public complaint, rather that it is a typically phobic response by the NSPCA to being publicly challenged, and that because the SPCA movement generally, with NSPCA policies and rulings at the forefront, is dominated by a pro-euthanasia mindset, it cannot comprehend why any individual or organisation would be committed to doing what we do in order to save monkeys and give them a second chance at life life, either in a sanctuary or rehabilitated back into the wild after a period of recovery confinement and continued confinement until such time as the sanctuary and rehabilitation facilities to do this have been constructed.

“It is important to realize that all the monkeys in the care of Monkey Helpline have been rescued by us from extremely dire situations and are severely compromised”, said Smit.  “Every one of these monkeys would have suffered and died had we not intervened and provided life-saving treatment and recovery care where possible and desirable.  Monkey Helpline responds to over one thousand rescue callouts every year, rescuing an average of three monkeys every day throughout most of the year.  A high percentage, close to seventy-five percent, of rescue callouts end in the death of the monkey concerned, often by means of euthanasia due to the extreme nature of the animals’ illness or injury.  Many are dead on arrival or die before, during or after veterinary treatment.”

“We totally reject the NSPCA claim that what we are doing is “testimony to a serious case of wild animal hoarding”.  It is a ridiculous statement to make given that Monkey Helpline is the only dedicated primate rescue organisation in KZN and we accumulate monkeys from across the province.  Every monkey currently in our care has our commitment to ensuring that it will ultimately find a safe and fulfilling future in the sanctuary or rehabilitation facility currently being planned for land already donated to Monkey Helpline by a highly respected local conservation organisation.  Over the past seven years we have returned a large number for monkeys back into the wild, and the two hundred monkeys currently in our care represent an accumulation of less than thirty monkeys per year over this seven year period.  This can hardly be called “a serious case of wild animal hoarding”.

‘Insofar as claims by the NSPCA that, “Vervet Monkeys and some parrots were found to be without food and water and kept in filthy, cramped cages”, this is sensationalised and subjective”, said Smit.  “We believe that the NSPCA came to our property with the express intention of finding problems for which they could issue us with a warning.  That some of the cages had not yet been cleaned and the food and water containers replaced had everything to do with the practicality of running a facility such as the Monkey Helpline clinic and absolutely nothing to do with a lack of commitment to running as tidy a ship as we are capable of.  No monkey, or for that matter any other animal in our care, goes a single day without fresh food and water.  We are committed to providing for the basic needs and more of all the animals in our care, and the NSPCA inspector who carried out the inspection would have to admit that all the animals are physically in good condition.  Simple logic tells us that this would not be the case if these animals are denied access to food and water for meaningful periods at a time.  The inspector neglects to mention that even as she was critical of the absence of water in some of the clinic cages, I pointed out the pile of newly washed food and water containers that would be placed back into the cages shortly”.

Smit says that Inspector Ainsley’s claim that he, “has finally admitted that animal cruelty is occurring and that it is unacceptable to confine these animals unnecessarily,” is both incorrect and presented out of context.  He says that he agrees that unnecessary confinement for gratuitous reasons is cruel, but the confinement of monkeys in the Monkey Helpline clinic is not “unnecessary” and is also the only option available to Monkey Helpline as it moves towards establishing a benchmark sanctuary and rehabilitation facility on the land recently donated to it.  Smit asserts that it is a case of, “the end justifying the means”.

Smit also challenged the NSPCA inspector’s concerns about the length of time that monkeys were being kept in the clinic cages.  “We too are not comfortable with monkeys being confined beyond the time required for recovery from the injury or illness that preempted their rescue in the first place, but the reality is that this initial discomfort will more than be compensated for when the monkeys move to spacious sanctuary and rehabilitation enclosures.  If this means that some monkeys will have spent a year in such close confinement, it also means that they will at least be alive to enjoy the remaining five, ten or even twenty years of life that will follow.  Had they not been rescued they would now be dead, and most would have suffered horribly before dying.”

Taking the positive out of this issue, it might just be the catalyst the propels the NSPCA into taking a more proactive role in addressing the crisis facing monkeys and baboons in South Africa, and this would be a welcome deviation from their current position which is both inflexible and insensitive to the objectives of primate rescue, sanctuary and rehabilitation organisations in South Africa.

In my experience the NSPCA has made no effort to contribute to the South African primate care debate in any meaningful way.  If the NSPCA wants the respect and cooperation of primate care organisations and individuals, and wants to genuinely serve the needs of monkeys and baboons in South Africa, it must abandon its bully boy tactics and embark on a path of constructive engagement with the various organisations and individuals who are expending a huge amount of time, money and emotional energy in an effort to broker a better deal for the misunderstood, maligned and persecuted monkeys and baboons in South Africa.  And whilst they are about it they should be actively working to improve the lot of the thousands of exotic monkeys and parrots condemned to a life of imprisonment or enslavement in the hands of people with far more money than intellectual or emotional capacity to comprehend the cruelty associated with keeping monkeys and parrots, amongst others, as pets.

In concluding it is important to point out that whilst the NSPCA denies that its latest inspection of Monkey Helpline facilities has anything to do with the Monkey Helpline’s public criticism of the NSPCA’s primate euthanasia ruling and was motivated by the “public complaint” about excessive numbers of monkeys at the Monkey Helpline facility, the NSPCA’s media statement made no mention of the alleged complaint, but does conclude with a paragraph using its findings at Monkey Helpline as justification for the euthanasia ruling.

Monkey Helpline will not be gagged by the NSPCA when we feel criticism of their actions, or at times lack thereof, is justified.  We will act in accordance with our organisation’s objectives and will continue to hold our heads high and display our Monkey Helpline branding with pride!