A rural, economically-strapped county in Southwest Florida that is unknown even to many Floridians has become an unlikely national hotbed of civic activism, a transformation that must have local officials – with future elections to win – quaking in their boots.
Hendry County is home to four facilities that breed monkeys for lab experiments
It all started in November, 2014 when the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit
against the County for approving a monkey breeding facility without holding a legally-mandated public hearing. Upon hearing the news, several local residents began demanding answers to questions about the new facility and two older ones largely unknown to the public.
Residents in and near Hendry County hold a press conference about the monkey breeding facilities
But it wasn’t until an activist released drone footage
of a second
new secret monkey breeding facility
that anger against the county became a movement. “When the community saw the massive scale of this second facility, the monkey manure hit the fan,” said Jessica Thomas of Lehigh Acres. “How could our commissioners approve this controversial project without so much as consulting us?” Have they forgotten that they work for the people and not the wealthy corporations that make millions off the backs – and bodies – of monkeys?”
After seeing drone footage, residents in and near Hendry County, Florida, demand answers from commissioners who approved a second new monkey breeding facility behind closed doors
Will Bronson, president of the Lehigh Acres Democratic Club, says that politics has been a low priority for many in Hendry County, where residents are just trying to make ends meet. The MonkeyGate scandal, however, has galvanized the community, according to Bronson, who feels that voters are going to hold these elected officials accountable at the polls: “People are not going to want to elect candidates who appear to be under influence of corporate interests. By keeping these monkey facilities under wraps with the hope that they’d never come to light, the Hendry County commissioners have betrayed the public trust, and they should suffer politically from it.”
Hendry Commissioners: Janet Taylor, Darrell Harris, Karson Turner, Michael Swindle, Don Davis
While the secrecy and backroom deals between county officials and monkey breeders have enraged residents, it is the public health, property value, and animal cruelty issues that have driven residents into town hall — demanding that the County shut down the two facilities under construction and demanding answers:
- What happens to the daily waste of thousands of monkeys? Do the facilities spray it on the land? Does it seep into the groundwater? Does it contain toxic substances or disease pathogens?
- Do the monkeys carry diseases?
- What happens if monkeys escape, breed and become an invasive species in the Everglades, which is already under attack by non-native species?
- What types of abuses, apart from holding the primates captive, are being inflicted on these monkeys before they are shipped off to labs for experiments?
In a letter to the County Commissioners, a local fire commissioner, Linda Carter, asks what happens if a hurricane or tornado destroys the fenced enclosures that house thousands of monkeys: “If loose primates start looking for food and end up in the community residents’ yards, leaving droppings or biting a pet or small child, who would be liable for the medical recovery?”
Monkey escapes in the U.K. and Arkansas (photos: BBC, Conway police)
Area residents don’t expect these secretive monkey corporations to answer their questions. They do, however, expect their elected officials to provide answers. And, based on their impassioned remarks
at the county meetings, they intend to fight until they get them — and the resolution they seek.
Hendry County’s monkey breeding facilities are hidden behind gates at the end of long, private dirt roads dotted with no trespassing signs
The commissioners, meanwhile, must be asking themselves questions of their own, such as how the growing MonkeyGate scandal will affect their own political aspriations and what they need to do to appease the voters in order to keep their jobs or advance their own careers.
Jessica Thomas of Lehigh Acres, Florida wears #MonkeyGate t-shirt