In early spring 2001, Drew Weber, owner of the Lowell Spinners, a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, had an idea to boost attendance by exhibiting chimpanzees during promotional events at the Spinner’s ballpark. He contacted a Hollywood animal dealer who brokered the purchase of 2 1/2 and 2 year-old Arthur and Phoenix, from the Coulston Foundation, a notorious biomedical research laboratory, for $67,500.
Weber made a “verbal agreement” with Glenford Eldridge, one of the owners of the Greenville Wildlife Park, a “tooth and nail” roadside animal park in New Hampshire, to care for them and train them to do tricks to perform at the ballpark.
A few months after Arthur and Phoenix were delivered to the Greenville park, a park employee contacted the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), an animal advocacy organization dedicated to ending research on animals, to say that the chimps were not being properly cared for and that they were both suffering from repeated respiratory infections and recurring diarrhea.
NEAVS President, Dr. Theo Capaldo, traveled to Greenville to see the chimps for herself. Arthur and Phoenix were not on exhibition. The Greenville whistleblower helped her locate them in a shabby building with broken windows, which housed several exotic species in cramped, urine-soaked, wooden enclosures. “Arthur was bigger than Phoenix,” Capaldo recalled. “He seemed to derive security from her. Arthur had more of an innocence and vulnerability to him, while Phoenix was more confident and eager to explore.”
NEAVS contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture who sent inspectors to the park. The USDA report noted that Arthur was rocking back and forth, a sign of stress in captive chimpanzees, and cited the park for non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act for failing to provide enrichment for the chimps.
NEAVS contacted Weber and explained to him the conditions at the park and the plight of chimpanzees in entertainment and research and convinced him that keeping the chimps was, for many reasons, a boneheaded idea. First and foremost was pubic exhibition, a traumatic experience for chimpanzees. And the fact that as the chimps matured, at about age five they would become too dangerous to handle and Weber would be forced to give them up or keep them permanently behind bars.
Weber told Eldridge that he wanted to see the chimps but Eldridge would not let him onto the Park property, claiming that he owned them.
Realizing Eldridge had little concern for the chimps’ welfare, Weber agreed to let NEAVS file a lawsuit on his behalf to regain custody of Arthur and Phoenix from Greenville, with the understanding that, if successful, “ownership” of the chimps would then be transferred to NEAVS who would facilitate their transfer to sanctuary.
Weber sued for custody of the chimps, claiming Eldridge was not properly caring for them.
In Nov 2002, a New Hampshire superior court judge, satisfied that Weber was the rightful owner of the chimpanzees, and observing that “The present living arrangements [at Greenville] will probably have a detrimental effect on the chimps’ appropriate development and socialization,” ordered the wildlife park to give up the chimps to Weber. Per their agreement, Weber transferred ownership of Arthur and Phoenix to NEAVS, which funded their placement at the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care, a widely respected sanctuary in Florida, now known as Save the Chimps.
The Greenville Wildlife Park subsequently came under criticism from local animal-rights activists, whose complaints prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to launch an investigation of the entire facility. The park was shuttered in November, 2003.
Source: NEAVS Website “From cage to stage to rescue!”