November 11, 2013
Updated Nov 11, 2013 at 7:39 AM EDT
Niagara Falls, N.Y. (WKBW) - You may have never heard of a black belt Chimpanzee. His name was Charlie and he was a local star.
“Charlie is known as Charlie the Karate Chimp and is certified as a black belt. He qualified in front of the board for Mr. Chuck Norris,” Owner Carmen Presti said.
Charlie was also part of educating the local community.
“We started a business called Monkey Business and it was an educational, entertainment business,” Presti said.
He passed away just last week from an enlarged heart at age 28, which is young for chimps. Presti said he is devastated. Charlie's stepbrother Kiko is also taking it hard. Before coming to live with the Prestis, Kiko was abused and went deaf. They said Charlie was his caretaker.
“They spent the last 22 years together in the same catch and Charlie took him under his wing,” Presti said.
The Prestis are supporting Kiko and eachother through this mourning process. They are also being helped by dozens of chimps and other animals at the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls.
“As we were traveling around we found there was a lot of other primates that need homes so we started the Primate Sanctuary. We have about 30 primates now,” Presti said.
After doing this for more than two decades, the Presti's knew that it was time to move on to a bigger facility. They fought to get approval to build a $500,000 facility in Wilson, New York. They entire compound will be in memory of their beloved Charlie.
“It will be a nicer indoor outdoor facility for all primates,” Presti said.
Presti said this is not only to better the lives the animals. They also want to expand their college intern program, helping the young students learn about the primates.
“I enjoy mentoring our students from Niagara Community College. We want to open it up to UB, Oswego and Buff State,” Presti said.
Presti said this is more than animal-owner relationship. He said these animals are like his family.
“It's not a passion but a love for these guys,” Presti said.
Presti said they need the community's help to raise the funds to break ground.