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GROUP WANTS CHIMP ACT PULLED FROM POPPY FEST.

Byline: CHARLES F. BOSTWICK Staff Writer

LANCASTER - An animal-rights organization that is suing a Hollywood animal trainer is urging city officials to drop his animal act from this weekend's California Poppy Festival, saying he mistreats his chimpanzees and that they have bitten people.

City officials said they visited Sid ``Ranger Rick'' Yost and watched his training techniques, talked to other animal trainers about him, have had his animals at previous parks events without problems and concluded there is no reason to bar his animals from the festival.

``We have absolutely nothing in our experience to relate to these accusations. We believe there's nothing but positives in having him appear,'' Lancaster city spokeswoman Anne Aldrich said. ``We really looked into this.''

Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells said in a letter to Mayor Frank Roberts that Yost was put on probation in California for possessing a bear, had an animal that bit a child in Tennessee during an exhibition, and is accused in a lawsuit of beating and punching chimpanzees while training them to perform.

The lawsuit says a woman who spent 13 months as a part-time volunteer working with Yost saw him and other trainers physically and psychologically abuse chimpanzees.

The fund's lawsuit, set for trial in November, aims to take away four chimpanzees, including the chimp named Cody that appeared with the mayor and other city officials at a February news conference announcing the poppy festival.

An animal trainer for more than 30 years, Yost has denied the accusations in court and filed a counterclaim for defamation against his critics. He submitted declarations from other individuals who observed him working with chimpanzees and who said that he used humane training tactics and that they never saw him abuse any of the chimpanzees, court records show.

The counterclaim was dismissed last month by a federal judge based on First Amendment free-speech grounds. The judge ruled Yost had waited too long to file the counterclaim and that he was a public figure who must be able to prove that a defamatory statement was made by a person who knew it was false, and was made with ``actual malice.''

Yost said his critics' goal is to stop the use of chimpanzees in the entertainment industry.``The case is in litigation and we are looking forward to moving on with the case,'' Yost said Thursday. ``We also are looking forward to being up there at the Poppy Festival.''

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Photo:

Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts is shown in February with Cody the chimpanzee and its trainer Sid ``Ranger Rick'' Yost.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 21, 2006
Words:430
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