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A photo of chimpanzees in what appears to be a cement-and-chain-link outdoor housing structure at the DeYoung Family Zoo in Michigan.

The DeYoung Prisoners

Based on available public records, there are seven chimpanzees imprisoned in the DeYoung Family Zoo, identified in our habeas corpus complaint as follows:

Prisoner A (aka Louie) is an approximately 13-year-old male chimpanzee named Louie who has been imprisoned at DeYoung Family Zoo since 2010 when he was 6 weeks old.  For at least the first two years of his life, Louie was exploited for profit and used as a prop in photo opportunities. Videos and photos show Louie often on a fixed leash being made to interact with children and other zoo patrons in various ways.

Prisoner B is an adult female chimpanzee who has been imprisoned at DeYoung Family Zoo since at least 2017. She was previously held captive at the Missouri Primate Foundation near Festus, MO, which is a now-defunct chimpanzee breeding facility used as a primary source of chimpanzees sold within the exotic animal trade and entertainment industry. In August 2017, while imprisoned at DeYoung Family Zoo, Prisoner B gave birth to a female chimpanzee.

Prisoner C is an approximately 6-year-old female chimpanzee born at DeYoung Family Zoo in 2017. Prisoner C is the daughter of Prisoner B, but was removed from the latter’s care as an infant by Respondents.

Prisoner D is an adult female chimpanzee who has been imprisoned at DeYoung Family Zoo since at least 2017. She was previously held captive at the Missouri Primate Foundation near Festus, MO.

Prisoner E is an adult male chimpanzee who has been imprisoned at DeYoung Family Zoo since at least 2017. He was previously held captive at the Missouri Primate Foundation near Festus, MO.

Prisoner F is a male chimpanzee who has been imprisoned at DeYoung Family Zoo since at least 2017. He was previously held captive at the Missouri Primate Foundation near Festus, MO.

Prisoner G is a male chimpanzee who has been imprisoned since at least 2017. He was previously held captive at the Missouri Primate Foundation near Festus, MO.

Referred to as “the DeYoung Prisoners” in the NhRP’s complaint, the chimpanzees at the roadside zoo previously included Tommy–the NhRP’s client in the first habeas corpus petition brought on behalf of a nonhuman animal in the US and the subject of the 2016 documentary Unlocking the Cage. According to public records, Tommy was moved from a cage on a used trailer lot in New York to the DeYoung Family Zoo in 2015. The NhRP announced on Dec. 5, 2023 that public records it received on Nov. 30, 2023 appear to indicate that Tommy died in February of 2022, “curled up in his sleeping spot” inside a building at the DeYoung Family Zoo (see p. 80 of this PDF). 

About the DeYoung Family Zoo

The DeYoung Family Zoo is located in Wallace, Michigan and owned by Bud DeYoung and Carrie Cramer. It opened to the public in 1990. The zoo’s website indicates it offers various ticketed animal encounters and opportunities to hand-feed animals, including deer, bears, horses, camels, piglets, kangaroos, alpacas, geese, tortoises, coyotes, dingoes, camels, mountain sheep, ducks, and chickens. The DeYoung Family Zoo also offers private tours to meet and hold a sloth, otters, kangaroos, or a penguin. The facility is open yearly from May until the end of October.

With no accreditation displayed on its website, including any zoological association accreditation, the DeYoung Family Zoo is properly classified as a roadside zoo. As such, it is overseen only by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which doesn’t have specific standards that address the complex needs and autonomy of captive chimpanzees. Public records indicate that at least one chimpanzee, Louie, has been housed without the company of other chimpanzees from 2010 until at least 2018, and all the chimpanzees appear to be housed exclusively indoors for the duration of the winter.

As described in an affidavit, NhRP Staff Attorney Jake Davis visited the DeYoung Family Zoo in August of 2023. From the parking lot, he observed several chimpanzees inside two enclosures and heard at least one chimpanzee screaming and banging on the walls. “At one point,” he writes “a chimpanzee in the second enclosure went to an enclosed walkway and began rocking back and forth for over a minute and appeared to be trying to open the access point to the first enclosure. Another chimpanzee grabbed the chain-link fence and shook it violently.”

The DeYoung Family Zoo’s confinement of chimpanzees has long been criticized by animal protection organizations. In 2016, PETA filed a notice of intent to sue the zoo on behalf of Tommy and Louie for violating the Endangered Species Act. Ultimately that lawsuit was not filed.  

The DeYoung Family Zoo has not featured the chimpanzees on its Facebook page since 2018. In May of 2023, the DeYoung Family Zoo stated on its Facebook page that the section of its facility housing primates was closed to the viewing public because of concerns related to COVID-19.

In November of 2023, the NhRP received nearly 700 pages of records in response to a FOIA request we submitted to the USDA in May of 2023 regarding Tommy and the DeYoung Family Zoo. Download them here and here.

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A timeline of The DeYoung Prisoners’s case

Status: Ongoing
A photo of what appears to be a chain link and cement outdoor housing structure for chimpanzees at the DeYoung Family Zoo taken from the parking lot.


The NhRP files a habeas corpus complaint in the 41st Circuit Court in Menominee County, demanding the right to liberty of seven chimpanzees held captive in the DeYoung Family Zoo and their immediate release to a chimpanzee sanctuary.

The first litigation of its kind in Michigan, the NhRP’s complaint is supported by affidavits and declarations submitted by renowned experts in chimpanzee behavior and cognition, including Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Dr. Christophe Boesch, Dr. Jennifer Fugate, Dr. William McGrew, and Dr. Mary Lee Jensvold.

“Our knowledge of chimpanzees compels the conclusion that the imprisonment of the DeYoung Prisoners is unjust,” the NhRP writes in the complaint. “These are autonomous, self-determining beings forced to live in a wholly unnatural environment, one that deprives them of the ability to meaningfully exercise their autonomy. As a consequence of this unjust deprivation, they are suffering physically and psychologically.”


41st Circuit Court Judge Mary B. Barglind denies the NhRP’s habeas corpus complaint because she believes chimpanzees are not legal persons under Michigan’s common law of habeas corpus. The NhRP will appeal.


The NhRP files a claim of appeal (indicating our intent to appeal Judge Barglind’s denial of our habeas corpus complaint).


The NhRP files a brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals, arguing that the Circuit Court applied the wrong standard in dismissing the case on statutory grounds because the question of who may avail themselves of the protections of habeas corpus is for a court to decide under evolving common law doctrines. The NhRP also argues that the Circuit Court violated its own specific duty under the common law to protect autonomy and ensure even-handed application of the law. This duty is separate and distinct from the Michigan courts’ ultimate duty to issue our requested habeas corpus order, i.e. hold a hearing on the merits of our clients’ case and what our petition makes clear is their unlawful imprisonment.

The DeYoung Family Zoo has until June to file a brief in response if it chooses to.

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