Lawsuit: Amusement park lets chimpanzee smoke cigarettes

A chimpanze named Paulinho eats a fruit popsicle at the city zoo in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. With temperatures spiking above 120 degrees Farenheit at times, big apes reached their long, leathery fingers through bars to snatch the cold strawberry yogurt pops. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An animal rights group is suing to get a chimpanzee named Candy out of an amusement park where, it says, she smokes cigarettes and is given soft drinks instead of water.

Candy is isolated in an inadequate cage at the Baton Rouge park, and should be moved to a sanctuary, according to the federal suit filed in Baton Rouge on Tuesday by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

“Defendants have for decades allowed members of the general public to throw items into Candy’s cage, including lit cigarettes that Candy smokes. Just as with humans, cigarette smoking is very harmful for chimpanzees,” and letting her smoke violates the Endangered Species Act, the suit states.

The lawsuit is the first filed under a new federal rule that requires captive chimps get the same protection as wild chimps, said Carter Dillard, the group’s attorney. That rule, which was made public in June and took effect Sept. 14, changes captive chimps’ classification from threatened to endangered, the same classification as wild chimpanzees.

Jennifer Treadway-Morris, attorney for park owner Sam Haynes, said she had not had time to read the lawsuit. However, she said, government agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot make rules retroactive.

She also cited a letter from a veterinarian stating that an attempt to retire Candy to the Baton Rouge Zoo failed.

“She was returned because she couldn’t adjust and couldn’t assimilate,” Treadway-Morris said. “It seems that if they want her to have company, she doesn’t want it.”

The animal rights group said it went to court for Cathy Breaux, 62, and Holly Reynolds, 96, who have campaigned for decades to get Candy moved from the Dixie Landin’ park and its predecessor.

“Cathy and Holly remain upset, distressed and concerned that Candy is isolated throughout the day, deprived of companionship with other chimpanzees, and insufficiently stimulated in her empty cage,” the lawsuit states.

It said the women have seen visitors throw lit cigarettes into Candy’s cage for the chimp to smoke.

City animal control officials cited the park in 2012 for not providing water for Candy, according to the suit.

“Defendants provide Candy exclusively with Coca-Cola instead, claiming that Candy does not like water. However, Candy has readily accepted and drunk water offered to her by visiting experts. Water, not Coca-Cola, is an essential requirement for chimpanzees,” according to the suit.

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