Just four months after filing a lawsuit against Hendry County, Florida, for approving a monkey breeding facility without soliciting public comment, local residents discovered that County officials secretly approved another monkey breeding facility.
On Tuesday morning, they are holding a press conference at the Hendry County courthouse to express their outrage about the illegal lack of transparency as well as their grave concerns about the public safety and animal cruelty issues associated with the secret facilities. They will also ask what other secrets County officials are hiding from tax-paying residents.
Jane Velez-Mitchell of JaneUnchained recently traveled from New York to Florida to speak to residents who say they are determined to prevent Hendry County from becoming the nation’s capital for the importation and breeding of lab monkeys.
The plaintiffs in the case against Hendry, who are being represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), claim that County officials not only violated Florida’s Sunshine Law, which requires the County to hold a public hearing on matters that affect the community, but also broke zoning laws by illegally approving a wild monkey operation on land zoned for agricultural use. When ALDF filed the lawsuit, residents were not yet aware that the County had, behind closed doors, approved a second monkey breeding facility.
The facility that is the subject of the ALDF lawsuit, Primera Science Center, is being built by PreLabs, an Illinois-based company which reportedly intends to import 3,200 macaque monkeys from Mauritius, an island off the east coast of Africa.
The newly-discovered facility has already been built and is owned by the Mauritius-based company Bioculture. Bioculture is leasing land from Primate Products, a company that breeds monkeys and manufactures equipment for use in monkey labs. Area residents, who are determined to shut down this facility, do not know if Bioculture has already imported monkeys, and the company’s Sales & Marketing Director refused to answer any questions when TheirTurn reached him by phone. But the residents’ efforts are not without precedent. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled that Bioculture’s already-constucted monkey breeding facility in Puerto Rico could not be opened because it was illegally built on land that was zoned for other purposes.
The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF), which has worked for years to prevent these facilities from being approved, believes that Air France, the only commercial airline that transports monkeys, will ship the animals from Mauritius for both PreLabs and Bioculture.
Hendry County residents fear that the presence of thousands of exotic animals poses a safety hazard for the community. And their concerns are not unfounded. In early March, the CDC began conducting an investigation at the Tulane National Primate Research Center where monkeys died after being exposed to deadly bacteria that was mysteriously released from a separate, high security section of the lab.
According to Allison Young, an investigative reporter with USA Today, biosafety lapses have been reported all across the country, including at the Center for Disease Control, “They’ve had incidents involving Ebola, anthrax, and a very deadly strain of bird flu.”
Florida already has a population of hundreds of non-native wild macaque monkeys. Over the past 10 years, wildlife officials, who describe the animals as a “public health hazard,” have captured 700 of them. The majority of these monkeys tested positive for the herpes-B virus.
The ALDF’s lawsuit against Hendry County is ongoing. Area residents are now meeting to discuss how to handle the newly discovered Bioculture facility.
1. Local residents have organized a press conference on Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m. in front of the Hendry County courthouse. Please spread the word so that local residents and advocates attend.
2. Please sign this form letter demanding that Air France stops transporting monkeys for lab experiments. And please boycott Air France until it does. All of the world’s other major commercial airlines refuse to transport monkeys to breeding facilities and laboratories.