The 13-year-old lion was not only a tourist favorite, but also, a research animal. The beloved lion was being studied by the Oxford University Conservation Unit.
What happens when a non-native species, like a baboon or a monkey, is let loose in a new environment, like Florida? Officials in the Tampa area often turn to Vernon Yates, a wildlife expert who cares for animals while cases against their owners are adjudicated.
At his home, he has animals ranging from panthers to cougars and deer.
But the animal that really has his attention is a monkey that’s not in one of his cages, it’s been loose in Tampa for three years and has become a symbol of freedom to animal lovers and libertarians. But it’s also a source of taunting frustration to Yates, and the state officials tracking him.
“I feel really sorry for the primate. For his own well-being, he doesn’t need to be out there, so-called free,” Yates told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.
He compares the monkey to a homeless person, who would prefer a home to living out in the open.
Not An Animal Rights Activist
And that view makes him controversial among animal rights activists, a label Yates does not use for himself.
“I hate animal rights people with a passion. As far as I’m concerned, if you call me an animal rights person, that’s an insult,” said Yates.
Here’s where Yates parts ways with animal rights activists: He wants species to thrive, but he thinks the best way to do that is to let responsible owners care for them, instead of letting them run free, because they’re increasingly being killed in their natural environments. These views have not made him popular.
“I’m hated by both sides. The animal rights people hate me because I will fight until my last breath for your right to have [the animal],” he said. “But at the same time, those who have animals scream and holler at me all the time that I wouldn’t help law enforcement take animals if they didn’t have a place to put them.”
A Temporary Home
Yates doesn’t see his house as the ideal place for the animals. He doesn’t even want to care for these animals, but he knows many would be killed if he didn’t.
“I’m old, I don’t want any animals to take care of — I can barely take care of myself,” he said. “We’re not a sanctuary, we’re a shelter. A shelter means emergency help in finding a home.”
A Soft Spot
For some animals, Yates does have a soft spot. He has three large tigers that he keeps as pets: Teddy, Nina and Emily
“They’ve all been out on a boat multiple times. I take my tigers out, it’s not a big deal. They ride in the front side of the car with me, they come into my house, they do all kinds of stuff,” he said.
Timmy The Baboon Welcomes Here & Now To Florida