PETA Asks Feds to Investigate Reckless Exhibition of Monkey on ‘Great Day Houston’

For Immediate Release:
May 14, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382

Washington, DC —

This morning, PETA filed a formal complaint urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate Houston animal exhibitor Brian Staples for, among other issues, apparent violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act’s (AWA) regulations against allowing direct contact between members of the public and animals and exhibiting animals in a manner that causes them stress. The complaint stems from an April 25 incident in which Staples allowed a capuchin monkey to become agitated and punch Great Day Houston host Deborah Duncan in the face on the air.

This isn’t the first time that a capuchin used by Staples has lashed out: One capuchin who had escaped from Staples at a fair bit two people who then underwent a series of painful rabies shots. In addition, charges are currently pending against Staples for more than a dozen recent serious violations of the AWA.

“Wild animals never belong in a television studio, but Staples’ history of violating federal law—including pending charges for allowing a monkey to escape and roam for two days and confining big cats to filthy, waste-encrusted enclosures—should doubly make him persona non grata,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on the authorities to hold Staples accountable for any and all violations of federal law that he has committed—and on television producers everywhere to keep him out of their studios.”

PETA’s letter to the USDA follows. For more information, please visit

May 14, 2014

Dr. Robert Gibbens

Regional Director

USDA/APHIS/AC Western Region

2150 Centre Ave.

Bldg. B, Mailstop 3W11

Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117

Re:       Exhibition of a Monkey and a Lemur in Apparent Violation of the Animal Welfare Act by Brian Staples (License No. 91-C-0060)

Dear Dr. Gibbens:

I am writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to follow up on my e-mail of May 5 with more details and to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) promptly investigate Brian Staples (License No. 91-C-0060), who exhibited a capuchin monkey named Wilson on the show Great Day Houston on April 25 and May 6, in apparent violation of the Animal Welfare Act (see video 1 and video 2, also being sent via UPS).

During the April 25 show, Staples allowed the show’s host, Deborah Duncan, to come into direct contact with Wilson as well as to tease and apparently agitate the animal by refusing to give him a grape. As a result, Wilson punched Duncan in the face (see video 1 at 00:00:32). Following the punch, Staples made no apparent effort to control Wilson or prevent Duncan from coming into further direct contact with the monkey. This exhibition, which endangered Duncan and was likely stressful for Wilson, appears to have violated the following Animal Welfare Act (AWA) provisions:

  • 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(b)(1) (“Handling of all animals shall be done as expeditiously and carefully as possible in a manner that does not cause trauma … behavioral stress … or unnecessary discomfort.”)
  • 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(c)(1) (“During public exhibition, any animal must be handled so there is minimal risk of harm to the animal and to the public, with sufficient distance and/or barriers between the animal and the general viewing public so as to assure the safety of animals and the public.”)
  • 9 C.F.R. § 2.131 (d)(1) (“Animals shall be exhibited only for periods of time and under conditions consistent with their good health and well-being.”)
  • 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(d)(2) (“A responsible [and] knowledgeable … employee or attendant must be present at all times during periods of public contact” (emphasis added)).

On the May 6 show, even though Wilson had punched Duncan a little over a week earlier, Staples again allowed Duncan to come into direct contact with Wilson as well as again to tease and apparently agitate the monkey with food (see, e.g., video 2 at 08:20). In addition, during a skit at the start of the May 6 show, Duncan was apparently left alone in a room with Wilson (see video 2 at 00:01:30), all in further apparent violation of 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(b)(1), (c)(1), (d)(1) and (d)(2). During the May 6 show, Staples also exhibited a lemur who was placed on Duncan’s head and allowed to sit there, apparently unsupervised, for approximately two minutes (see video 2 at 05:26), in further apparent violation of 9 C.F.R. § 2.131(c)(1).

Furthermore, while displaying photographs of a monkey in direct contact with other members of the public during the May 6 show, Staples informed Duncan that he exhibits animals at hospitals and nursing homes and allows direct contact between Alzheimer’s patients—who may not even realize that they are coming into contact with an animal—and monkeys (see video 2 at 06:20 to 07:13). Please investigate whether these exhibitions violate the AWA and, if so, hold Staples fully accountable.

As you are investigating Staples, please keep in mind his history of animal neglect and public endangerment as well as bite, disease transmission, and other risks that are inherent in allowing people to come into direct contact with monkeys, including capuchins. The USDA’s pending complaint against Staples for numerous AWA violations includes a count for allowing a capuchin monkey to escape. (See Attachment A). This monkey remained at large for two days in near-freezing temperatures. Id.  The USDA has also cited Staples for allowing a spider monkey to escape, and during yet another incident, Staples allowed a capuchin monkey to escape and bite two people who subsequently underwent a series of rabies shots. (See Attachments B and C.) According to a primatologist with 13 years of experience, in addition to rabies, capuchins can carry tuberculosis and herpes B, and they can also spread enteric diseases (including shigella, salmonella, campylobacter, and parasites) to humans via the fecal-oral route.

The primatologist also opined that bite wounds, which can be very serious, pose a risk to people who come into direct contact with capuchin monkeys, who have been known to attack and bite humans. In addition to the Staples bite incident referenced above, in 2010, for example, a man named Babe Hamerick was attacked by a capuchin monkey named Noah. (See Attachment D).  Hamerick described the attack as worse than war, which he claimed was “a breeze compared to my little fight with [Noah, which] cut the vein, tore ligaments out of my wrists. I’m pumping blood all over.” Id. Within two weeks, Noah attacked Hamerick a second time, biting his hand and severing his pinky finger. See id. And in 2009, an animal-care technician at the University of Georgia suffered a severe bite to her thumb while cleaning the cage of a capuchin monkey, which, on top of a hospital visit, required treatment from a hand specialist in Atlanta. (See Attachment E).  Please refer to PETA’s primate incident factsheet (see Attachment F) for further examples of injuries caused by primates as well as numerous examples of primates who have escaped, putting the public at risk. Source materials are available upon request.

In light of Staples’ lengthy history of disregarding public safety, animal welfare, and federal law, please hold Staples fully accountable for any and all Animal Welfare Act violations that you find during your investigation. Given his frequent travel, please also ensure that he is submitting his current itineraries to the USDA in accordance with 9 C.F.R. § 2.126. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Please inform me of the complaint number that your agency assigns to this correspondence.

Very truly yours,

Elena Kravtsoff | Counsel

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