RPC turns down permit for Great Ape Experience

The Pahrump Regional Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to deny a conditional use permit for James Casey and his Great Ape Experience, at 2721 Our Road.

Casey’s application was first considered at the May 15 RPC meeting, but he asked for a continuation until Wednesday due to family medical issues. Casey asked for his case to be continued Wednesday for the same reason, but the RPC wasn’t receptive. Casey didn’t appear for either meeting.

RPC member Robert King made a motion to continue the agenda item at Casey’s request again to a July 10 meeting. King said that was in keeping with what the board has done for other property owners.

“At which time if Mr. Casey does not appear in front of us we would have to take a vote to either approve or deny it on its face without any input from Mr. Casey,” King said.

But he didn’t get a second to his motion. RPC member Greg Hafen II then made a motion to deny the permit.

A contingent from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who began showing up at county meetings recently over the issue of tiger owner Karl Mitchell, were the only members of the public in attendance.

PETA attorney Carney Ann Chester gave the only public comment.

“I encourage you to move forward on the application as it stands, which is woefully inadequate,” she said.

RPC Chairman John Koenig said the district attorney’s office said it was at their discretion whether or not to grant a continuance.

“Animal control has continued to go by the property. In fact, I think they’ve increased the number of times they go by the property and check on the situation,” Planner Beth Lee said.

County planners recommended a denial of the application. Their report said the conditions of the enclosures and method of transfer poses a risk to the public. Casey also began using the property prior to receiving any approvals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Nye County Animal Control; he moved to the property in December after being evicted from Las Vegas. Planners said the property is only 2.15 acres, with 21 residences within 700 feet.

The property is subject to an active code compliance case. The USDA said Casey’s license wasn’t valid at his new site until an inspection determines it’s in compliance.

Nye County Animal Control found the property to be in compliance with sanitation, food storage and overall care but there were concerns over public safety. Animal control imposed enclosure requirements to reduce escapes — like a fully enclosed area between the transport truck and outside cages, a sally port from the interior cage to the transport truck and obtaining all federal, state and local permits.

Casey can appeal his denial to Nye County commission. Planners reported he had three adult and one juvenile chimpanzee that Casey brings to occasions like birthday parties and corporate events.

Outside the brief hearing, Chester said, “I think the commissioners were pretty frustrated by Mr. Mitchell’s shenanigans.”

Mitchell’s request for a conditional use permit was first heard by the RPC in June 2012, but he is still on rented property, after he exhausted his appeals before county commissioners in April.

When asked if PETA was opposed to exotic animal ownership in general, Chester told the Pahrump Valley Times her organization opposes the exploitation of animals. She said when animals are shown for profit it usually isn’t with their best interests in mind.

PETA issued a press release accusing Casey of physically abusing chimpanzees. The organization also claimed Casey confined chimpanzees to unsanitary and squalid conditions, depriving them of adequate enrichment, which PETA claimed was in violation of the Endangered Species Act prohibition on harming and harassing protected species.

PETA said Casey bred and sold two chimpanzees who were killed after attacking humans. Casey’s own face was disfigured in an attack, the group said. Several chimpanzees also escaped from his properties, they said.

Casey’s application states he has been working and living with chimpanzees since 1987 and built a very large chimp habitat and care facility in the Midwest. For 15 years, Casey said he drove around the U.S. picking up chimps that were formerly pets, performers, or came from zoos that were closing.

Neighbor Kay Jones showed up too late for the brief hearing. Jones said she was relieved she won’t have to stand out on the street and circulate petitions.