It was a beautiful fall morning when the lives of Carmen Presti and his wife, Christie, would change forever. The caregivers and "parents" of Charlie the Chimp were by his side day and night during the last days of his life before his passing on Nov. 4 at the home of The Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls.
Carmen and Christie acquired Charlie in 1985. All through his 28 years of life, Charlie was adored by countless people from across the globe. Carmen dedicated his life to enhancing Charlie's life. He recognized early on that Charlie exhibited extraordinary intellect and embarked on the task of instructing him to communicate using sign language. Carmen, who is a third-degree black belt in karate, trained Charlie in martial arts.
Charlie soon earned the trademarked nickname "Charlie The Karate Chimp," and a cameo appearance in the film "Ghost Rider" starring Nicholas Cage. Charlie went on to appear on "Animal Planet" and "America's Funniest People." In 2009, "National Geographic" highlighted the life of Carmen and his chimps in a television special emphasizing the dedication, devotion and respect it takes to raise and care for full-grown adult chimpanzees.
Subsequently, Carmen and Christie went on to adopt chimpanzee Kiko, who is deaf as a result of an abusive previous owner. Charlie and his primate brother, Kiko, soon became lifelong buddies and, with the addition of more than 28 other primates, the focus of The Primate Sanctuary became education.
Recognizing the need to enlighten people about the world of primates and the preservation of their future, Carmen reached out to the administrators of the Niagara County Community College animal management program and offered students the opportunity to earn intern credits. Carmen has, subsequently, mentored more than 100 students.
"The prospect of working alongside Carmen and the primates was exciting, so I jumped at the chance," said Kristen Handley, a former intern and graduate of the program. "The skills I learned helped prepare me for working with exotic animals, and I feel so very fortunate to have had this exceptional experience."
Most recently, Charlie and Kiko donated their saliva and blood as part of the UB School of Dental Medicine grant for medical research on the subject "The Evolution of Saliva." Carmen has served as a lecturer to the SUC at Buffalo Anthropology and Biology Club students over the years.
After many years of debate, this past July the Wilson Town Board approved the construction and expansion of The Primate Sanctuary, which will be housed on the Presti's property in Wilson. Those wishing to support the creation of this new primate facility can visit www.theprimatesanctuary.com to make a contribution.
The Presti's are grateful to the following medical professionals for their guidance and care and extend their deep gratitude to Dr. Mike Borowitz, DVM; Dr. Walter McCarthy, DVM; Dr. James Albert, DVM; Charlie's lifelong physician, Dr. Jerome Ulatowski, along with Dr. Joceyln Bezner; "Save The Chimps"; Dr. Hayley Murphy; "The Great Ape Heart Project"; and Dr. Ed Latson, attending veterinarian with the Aquarium of Niagara.
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