PROFILE: Sarah Baeckler
Primatologist Sarah Baeckler uncovered some distrubing practices at Sid Yost's training facility.
It was in June 2002 that Sarah Baeckler, a young primatologist went undercover at Sid Yost's Amazing Animal Actor's training facility in Malibu, California. It was an assignment that would change her life.
Baeckler's spy career began after she had finished her graduate program with Dr Roger Fouts, one of the world's experts on chimpanzees. There had been rumours of abusive techniques used by chimp trainers for films, and Fouts, Dr Jane Goodall, and others involved with chimpanzees wanted first-hand information on the training.
Baeckler asked to go undercover at chimp training school
"Dr. Fouts asked me if I was interested in sort of investigating and doing undercover work," Baeckler told fifth estate reporter Bob McKeown.
Sid Yost was one of Hollywood's best known animal trainers.
"I just wanted to collect the data and so I thought how you know how can I get this data basically…and I figured that a really good place to start would be this program where they teach people to be animal trainers.
"And from that point I had just heard about a trainer who took volunteers and so I called him up and said hey I want to volunteer and; and I said my name and that I had worked with chimps before."
"And he said come on up and I started going up there between 1 and 3 times a week. I ended up staying there for 14 months."
Sid Yost: one of Hollywood's best known animal trainers
Sid Yost, the man who hired Baeckler, is also known as Ranger Rick in the syndicated US children's show Critter Gitters. He is one of Hollywood's best known animal trainers, having, at one time worked for Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. His chimps Sable, Cody, and Angel had appeared in numerous television programs including the hit comedy That ‘70s Show.
A photo of an 'ugly stick' used at Yost's facility.
According to Baeckler, her experience at Yost's facility allowed her to see the dark side of training chimpanzees.
"The trainers use physical force to train the chimps and other animals as well but they punch them they kick them." says Baeckler. "They use weapons such as a sawed off broom handle that they called the ugly stick."
"They used them…to threaten the chimps but also to strike them. They throw rocks and locks and hard things at them; these are baby chimpanzees that they're doing."
Baeckler reveals animal abuse at Yost's facility
Shortly after Baeckler left Yost in 2003, she was the star witness at a press conference called to reveal the findings of her undercover work. Dr Goodall introduced her.
Sarah working with one of the chimps.
"The events I witnessed horrified me," she told the press. "I am not exaggerating when I tell you I saw sickening acts of emotional, psychological, and physical abuse every single day on the job." (read her statment)
The suit was settled late last year. As part of the settlement, Yost relinquished his chimps and promised he would never work with primates again. Sable, Cody and Angel were sent to two well-respected primate sanctuaries.
"Although I didn't expect to see them again I'm very happy to say that I will." Says Baeckler.
Today: Baeckler studys law
Today Baeckler lives in Oregon and has decided to take a new career path.
"I made that decision to go to law school" she says. "I hope to be able to combine the scientific aspect of my background and the legal training in order to really make a difference for chimps."