Carmen Presti, backed by a ton of goodwill and driven by persistence, has the go-ahead to build a primate sanctuary in the town, but he still needs help — pro bono work by contractors.
The champion of orphaned monkeys and chimpanzees has cared for his primates for 26 years in a storefront in the middle of Niagara Falls and has had triumphs and supporters. Now he wants to put his 29 primates, plus Kiko, in a country home on 2870 Youngstown-Olcott Road.
The project may be more than a summer away and the plans are not complete.
Presti is working on architectural plans now, he said Saturday, and expects contractors to help him out when plans are made. Carmen and Christie Presti built a house assessed for $294,000 and wants the sanctuary on their property.
The home is taxed, but the sanctuary would be a tax-free 501C property, according to Presti.
“Out closest neighbors can’t wait for me to get there,” said Presti, referring to the neighbor across the street and a next-door neighbor. “The haters haven’t changed their minds yet.”
Some neighbors fear there has been a conspiracy in favor of the sanctuary, according to a town councilman. Another resident said that she knows of a neighboring couple who moved away.
“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t want to have them,” she said of the primates.
Village Mayor Bernie Leiker endorses the sanctuary. “All I know is that it’s been approved and Carmen Presti has done a really great job setting that up. I hope that he moves his monkeys there. He’s done a lot of things in the community with the monkeys, not with the big ones, but with the small ones.”
Board member Jim Muscoriel offered, “I think it’s wonderful. It’s admirable that somebody is willing to spend his life taking care of abused animals, and that’s basically what they are. People buy a monkey or a primate and they have no idea what they’re getting into. I think he should be commended for what he’s done.”
Dennis Fulton-Sears, who lives in the town, recognized that there is always a controversy, but is strongly in support of the Presti project..
“It’s a better facility than he already has, so the animals will be better taken care of,” Fulton-Sears said. “He and his wife are extremely professional about the things they do. ... He’s very compassionate about the way he cares. He’s doing the right thing.”
Several Wilson residents attended the memorial service for Charlie the Chimp who died last month. Charlie “the Karate Chimp” earned national and international fame under Presti’s tutelage. Presti’s cast of outcasts have toured Western New York and those shows help pay some of the expenses.
Town resident Debbie Hendricks said, “I think he’s doing a great thing rescuing these animals who are taken on by people can’t handle them themselves.”
Hendricks said that Presti obeys all the rules regulated by the government.
The Prestis entertained the Niagara Falls Police Club at the Frontier Fire Co. on Saturday to the howls, laughter and wonder of children of the police officers. The Prestis have done shows for the police club before and would be welcome again.
”It all depends on who’s calling — libraries, schools, cub scouts, girl scouts,” Presti said. The presentation depends on the age of the audience. The show is honest, entertaining and educational.
Presti recognizes that primates were not intended to be pets, but are wild animals by nature. He minimizes the potential danger.
Initially, most of the town and village members seemed indifferent to somewhat supportive of the sanctuary. It was not in their backyard.
Presti got support from Niagara Falls neighbors and organizations, and now has general support in the Town and Village of Wilson, according to those interviewed.
He has no target date for completion. The sanctuary relies on paid interns, many from Niagara County Community College, to main the building on Livingston Avenue in Niagara Falls which is not designed for the public.
Presit’s nephew Greg Presti, helps in the sancturary. Greg and Niki were raised together and Carmen calls them cousins. Presti’s brother, John, operates the Presti Karate Studios