Skip to content

Bios on the Chimpanzees in New York Lawsuits

By Michael Mountain

Here is some basic information on the four chimpanzees on whose behalf we are filing suit this week in New York State. These are inevitably no more than sketches based on available information. With very few exceptions, the owners of captive chimpanzees do not want other people to know about their health and welfare and, especially in laboratories, the conditions in which they’re being kept. So what follows is simply the best information we have been able to glean so far.

Tommy the Chimpanzee


Tommy is held in a small cement cage in a dark shed in the back of a used trailer lot in Gloversville, New York.

The day our investigators visited him, the temperature in the shed was about 40 degrees below what it would be in his native land. The only company he had was a TV that was left on for him at the other side of the shed.

Tommy is “owned” by Patrick C. Lavery, who also owns Circle L. Trailer Sales, Inc. and Santa’s Hitching Post, which sells and rents out reindeer. A classified ad at reads:

Santa’s Hitching Post – Reindeer for Sale or Rent. We Also Do TV & Promotional Work. Livestock Trailers For Sale. Special discounts To All ROBA Members. Patrick Lavery Gloversville, New York.

A person who visited the facility three years ago told us that there were four chimpanzees there at that time, and we gather that at one point Mr. Lavery had at least six. We do not know what has happened to these others. We do know that when we began researching captive chimpanzees in New York State earlier this year, we were planning to include three more, but all three have since died. Most captive chimpanzees die young, so it’s likely that this was the fate of some or all of the other five chimpanzees in Mr. Lavery’s possession.



Kiko lives in a cage at the home of Carmen Presti and his wife Christie in Niagara Falls, NY. The Prestis owned a second chimpanzee, Charlie, who died a few weeks ago of a heart condition that is common among captive chimpanzees. We estimate Charlie’s age to have been about 27.

Kiko, who we estimate to be about 26 years old, is partially or completely deaf as a result of abuse he suffered while on the set of a Tarzan movie before being acquired by the Prestis. Carmen has said he bought Kiko because he wanted Charlie to be in a movie but the movie makers said they needed two chimpanzees. (The movie later fell through.)

He suffers from an inner ear condition that requires him to take anti-motion sickness medication from time to time especially during changes in barometric pressure.

The Prestis have a tax-exempt non-profit corporation called The Primate Sanctuary, Inc., and have been seeking a permit to build a larger facility on five acres in nearby Wilson, NY. They also own a collection of monkeys and exotic birds.

Before he was acquired by the Prestis, Charlie was trained in martial arts and was known as “the karate chimp.” Carmen Presti continued working with Charlie in karate, and there are many photos of Charlie, dressed in martial arts clothing, appearing with Carmen Presti and various celebrities including Billy Joel, Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg, Chuck Norris, Howie Mandell, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, and Pat Johnson. Here are some photos of Charlie, dressed up and posing with some of these celebrities. More are on the website of The Karate Chimp.

charlie-billy-joel  charlie-jay-leno
Left: Charlie with Carmen Presti and Billy Joel. Right: with Presti and Jay Leno

charlie-chuck-norris     charlie-whoopi-goldberg    charlie-howie-mandell
Left: Charlie with Presti and Chuck Norris. Center: with Whoopi Goldberg. Right: with Howie Mandell

Hercules and Leo

(No photos are available for Hercules and Leo.)

Hercules and Leo are two chimpanzees being held at Stony Brook University, where they are being used for locomotion research. They are owned by the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana.

The two chimpanzees have been used in various studies to do with stance and swing phase joint mechanics in chimpanzee bipedal walking; heel contact as a function of substrate type and speed in primates; and passive joint motion of chimpanzee knee, ankle, foot.

One of the researchers, Professor Susan Larson, describes this work as “modeling and experimental investigations [that] will be used to reconstruct the most likely manner in which the australopithecine ancestors of humans walked on two legs, and by so doing, determine if australopithecine bipedality was transitional between that of apes and humans.”

Another researcher, Professor Jack Stern, explains that he has “a specific interest in the origin of bipedalism among hominids. … Their newest research will focus on using muscle recruitment patterns in chimpanzees to improve mathematical models of australopithecine bipedalism.”

Hercules and Leo spend their lives in laboratory cages contributing to this research.

Sign up to receive the latest updates on our mission

Find out about opportunities to get involved, breaking news in our cases and campaigns, and more.