People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has made good on a threat to file suit against The Mobile Zoo in Wilmer over the living conditions of a chimpanzee named Joe.

The Norfolk, Virginia-based animal rights organization has accused the zoo of “mistreatment and neglect” of Joe multiple times in recent years and has used its website to gather support for having the primate moved to an accredited wildlife sanctuary.

When the lawsuit was filed Jan. 19, an existing online petition had already gathered more than 75,000 signatures.

In 2015, PETA strengthened its protest after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made changes that added chimpanzees to the Endangered Species Act.

Joe, a chimpanzee at the Mobile Zoo, is currently at the center of a federal lawsuit.

Joe, a chimpanzee at the Mobile Zoo, is currently at the center of a federal lawsuit.

PETA is claiming Joe has been “in isolation” at the “roadside zoo for 17 years,” also suggesting the zoo has allowed “and even encouraged visiting members of the public to throw peanuts at Joe, causing him great distress.”

“Chimpanzees like Joe are highly social and exceptionally intelligent animals who, in their natural environment, engage in a wide range of complex social relations with other members of their species,” the suit reads.

Citing the works of renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, PETA’s lawyers write that the emotional similarities between humans and chimpanzees suggest the primates suffer physical and psychological pain, “just as we do.”

According to PETA, the Endangered Species Act now affords chimpanzees “the right, under federal law, to live in an environment that meets their unique needs.” The suit, however, describes Joe’s habitat as a “barren, unsanitary and inhumane solitary confinement, which the plaintiffs say has “undoubtedly caused Joe immense harm.”

Joe, a chimpanzee at the Mobile Zoo, is currently at the center of a federal lawsuit.

Joe, a chimpanzee at the Mobile Zoo, is currently at the center of a federal lawsuit.

In addition to PETA, there are two other plaintiffs bringing the case on Joe’s behalf — Sallie Lane, a Tuscaloosa resident and former employee of The Mobile Zoo, and Anna Ware, who visited Joe at the zoo last year and “developed aesthetic and emotional connections to him.”

Lane claims she was “injured and adversely affected” by the zoo’s treatment of Joe, something she said at times prevented her from sleeping. Furthermore, Lane alleged she intervened on numerous occasions when visitors harassed Joe by “poking him with sticks or tossing dirt at him.”

The Endangered Species Act added all chimpanzees, both wild and captive, to the list of federally protected animals in the United States. Because PETA believes Joe is not being properly cared for, they allege the zoo has “taken” him based on definitions outlined in the law.

PETA’s suit asks a federal judge to rule against The Mobile Zoo on the basis it is violating two laws under the Endangered Species Act, and prevent the facility from continuing to house Joe in his current conditions. The plaintiffs are also seeking “reasonable attorneys’ fees and litigation costs” as well as “any further relief as the court deems just and proper.”

Lagniappe reached out to The Mobile Zoo on Tuesday afternoon, but a representative said they would need time to review the lawsuit before making any public comment.