Here's everything we know about Dawkins, the primate who got loose at SA airport

Dawkins doing well after getting loose at SA airport on Monday

By RJ Marquez - Digital Content Curator

(Image courtesy: Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary)

SAN ANTONIO - Dawkins, the rhesus macaque that got loose Monday afternoon at the San Antonio airport, was safely transported to the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary hours after the incident. The sanctuary is located north of Cotulla.

KSAT.com spoke with Prashant Khetan, Chief Executive Officer of Born Free USA, about the ordeal. Here’s everything we know about Dawkins and what lies ahead for the primate. 

Dawkins is doing well 

“He’s doing well. In a kind of odd situation, it’s almost as if yesterday (Monday) did not happen for him,” Khetan said. “He is in his open, large enclosure. He’s walking, he’s exploring. All the things we would expect to see 24 hours after transportation.” 

Dawkins isn’t seeing any lingering effects 

“As of right now, we’re not seeing any lingering effects from yesterday,” Khetan said. “At the same time, this is something we’re going to closely monitor over the next couple of days and weeks. We would’ve done that anyway given his transport, given the fact this is the first time he’s going to be touching grass and interacting with other rhesus macaques. We’re probably going to have a little heightened sense of watchfulness given everything that happened yesterday.”

Dawkins’ species was initially misreported 

“Dawkins was always a rhesus macaque,” Khetan joked. “The initial news reports said ‘baboon is loose at the San Antonio airport’ and none of that was accurate. He is a rhesus macaque, which is a completely different species, and typically come from China or India. They are a little more and I hesitate to say this, a little more acclimated to humans. That’s why they are often times used in research facilities, but a rhesus macaque is very different from a baboon.”  

Dawkins was in a crate and there are questions about what happened 

“It was a crate and it's not an uncommon way to transport animals,” Khetan said. “It’s safe, proven way and not dangerous to the animals and this should’ve gone really without incident.”

“To be quite candid, we still have a lot of questions as to what happened. From my perspective, this is less about attributing fault. It’s more about we need to make sure we know what happened so it does not happen again.”

Khetan said there is an investigation ongoing by American Airlines, but there was no new information as of Tuesday morning.

The situation was controlled at all times 

“When the Born Free staff arrived at the airport, what would normally happen, they would go to the cargo space and there’s paperwork to be exchanged and they would collect the crate and Dawkins should have been in the crate!"

"When they arrived, they were told immediately that Dawkins had gotten out of the crate and subsequent to that, our sanctuary director who has a lot of experience with primates was permitted to go back into the cargo space.”

“Contrary to what was reported by some folks, it was a controlled situation,” Khetan said. “There were always eyes on Dawkins. Of course there was an hour or two when everyone was concerned about Dawkins, but they had eyes on him and it was controlled enough that they were able to eventually get him into a situation where he could be transported to the sanctuary.” 

Dawkins is not the first primate to travel to South Texas this year 

“We’ve had three so far this year,” Khetan said. “We’re encouraged anytime someone calls us and tells us we’re interested in retiring a primate because of the alternative. We happily accept these situations and transfers." 

Where did Dawkins come from?

“One of the conditions of when we take in a primate is that we agree not to talk about their past,” Khetan said. “I’m not able to get into whether Dawkins came from a research facility or not.” 

Brown University issued this statement Monday after the incident 

"On Monday, May 21, Brown’s animal care staff learned that an enclosure holding a rhesus macaque en route to a sanctuary in Texas came open upon arrival to the airport in San Antonio. As part of Brown’s commitment to the highest standards of animal health and safety, the University’s animal care professionals actively seek homes for non-human primates who are retired from research protocols. The macaque that en route to Texas when its enclosure became open was being transported from Brown to an animal sanctuary as part of the University’s commitment to animal well-being." 

What’s next for Dawkins?

“Dawkins is 10 years old which means he has plenty of life left,” Khetan said. “The hope at the sanctuary is to have animals be as close to being in the wild as possible so with Dawkins what we’ll do in the short term is get him acclimated to the new environment. Have him touch grass for the first time, perhaps interact with other rhesus macaques for the first time. We don’t always how they are situated before but generally there isn’t a lot interaction from primates in their prior homes.”

Dawkins may move into another enclosure

“We will kind of gauge how he is doing, how is he reacting to other primates,” Khetan said. “If we start to see signs of him either grooming or allowing to be groomed or other social behavior that you expect of primates, then the hope is to eventually move him to a larger enclosure where he is with other rhesus macaques and can socialize and develop the type of bonds that you would develop in the wild. From our perspective, this is his life for the remainder of time 

Khetan wants this to be an opportunity to talk about wildlife captivity

Born Free USA is “trying to direct people to use this as an opportunity to talk about why we have wild animals in captivity in the first place. This should really bring to light that this still happens," Khetan said. "It’s not a practice in society that we should condone and we saw some of the effects of it yesterday. We saw an animal that was stressed the same way human beings are stressed, the same characteristics and in large part due to his prior life being held in captivity.”

Everything went well despite the circumstances

“Born free USA was involved in all of it. Our staff was there and in fact we place the call to the local zoo to ask them to come out because our vet knows the head vet at the zoo,” Khetan said.

“I actually think people stepped really up and acted the way you want them to act in these types of situations. Folks were not getting frantic, there was no calls or anything to do something drastic which is great because you want that sort of calm and logical behavior to happen when there is an unfortunate incident that occurs. From my perspective, everyone involved acted properly in trying to contain the situation and now Dawkins is at the sanctuary, which was the ultimate goal.”

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