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Helping Tommy and Kiko

By Courtney Fern

Today is the third day of our week of action in recognition of the suffering our clients have endured as a result of their imprisonment and with the hope they will soon be able to live freely and with peace and dignity.

Tethered with a chain, Kiko sits with a dog outside in a screenshot of a photo shared on Carmen Presti's Facebook page.
Tethered with a chain, Kiko sits with a dog outside in a screenshot of a photo shared on Carmen Presti’s Facebook page.

The chimpanzee rights cases for our first two clients, Tommy and Kiko, ended in 2018 when the New York Court of Appeals declined to hear their appeal. We have hired multiple private investigators to help determine and confirm their whereabouts and continually assessed what can be done to secure their freedom based on what we have learned and what remains unknown.

To the best of our knowledge, Kiko remains in the same position as when we first took him on as a client in 2013: held captive by Carmen and Christie Presti in a cage in a cement storefront in Niagara Falls, NY where he has been seen and photographed with a steel chain and padlock around his neck. Kiko is believed to be in his 30s and, like Tommy, he was exploited by the entertainment industry early in his life. Kiko is partially deaf because of physical abuse he suffered on the set of the made-for-TV movie Tarzan in Manhattan.

Because of the New York courts’ failure to recognize Kiko as a legal person who enjoys the right to liberty, he continues to face a bleak existence of solitary confinement.

As of right now, Tommy’s location—or even whether he is alive—is unknown. Patrick Lavery claims he sold Tommy to a roadside zoo in Michigan. The owners of the zoo have claimed in turn they never had Tommy. Through records requests, we were able to find documents purporting the sale of Tommy to the Michigan zoo, but there is no definitive proof that he ever arrived at the zoo.

This is what can happen when a chimpanzee is treated as property, a mere “thing” to be bought, sold, traded, confined, hidden, and exploited with no oversight or consequence. Tommy’s fate is one that innumerable chimpanzees held captive in the United States have suffered, being used and then discarded when humans can no longer exploit them for profit, with many of the owners claiming it’s for the chimpanzees’ own good and that they are treated well. Our hope is that we will be able to locate Tommy and renew our advocacy for his freedom. Until then, we hope his life can serve as warning and prime example for why chimpanzees must be recognized as legal persons with the right to liberty.

Actions of the day:

  • Complete this action alert to ask Carmen Presti to send Kiko to an accredited chimpanzee sanctuary where he can live freely with other chimpanzees in an environment that meets his physical and psychological needs.
  • Encourage people in your networks to watch Unlocking the Cage, featuring Tommy and Kiko’s stories and the NhRP’s fight for their freedom, on HBO, iTunes, or Amazon. Note: we will have further actions planned for Tommy based on new information we are currently assessing.

Thank you!

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