As Chairman of the New York Blood Center, real estate magnate Howard Milstein bears responsibility for the organization’s decision to cut funding for its former lab chimps who are living on six islands in Liberia. In an effort to convince him to fulfill his promise to provide lifelong care for the 67 surviving apes, New Yorkers have begun staging dramatic protests in front of the billionaire’s Park Avenue apartment building.
In spite of global pressure to reinstate the funding for the chimps, the NY Blood Center is digging in its heels, stating that it doesn’t own the them and that the government of Liberia is responsible for their care. They do not acknowledge that NYBC captured the chimps in the wild; bred them in captivity: held them prisoner in cages; experimented on them for 30 years; earned $500 million off the research; moved them to islands with no natural source of food and water; and made multiple promises to provide them with lifelong care.
Real estate tycoon Howard Milstein is Chairma of the Board of the NY Blood Center
TV journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell of Jane UnChained attended the first protest at Mr. Milstein’s home and filed this report:
The Real Deal, a real estate publication read by Howard Milstein’s peers, also has also reported on the grass roots campaign against him and the NYBC.
As New Yorkers prepare to expand the protests to the homes other NYBC board members, hundreds, if not thousands, of advocates in other parts of the world are taking action against the the Blood Center by participating in a grass roots campaign organized by the Facebook group, New York Blood Center: Do the Right Thing.
New Yorkers protest outside the home of Howard Milstein
In the streets, online and in the media, the NY Blood Center is being pressured to resume funding for the chimps’ care. On July 24th, the Daily Mail – one of the most widely circulated news publications in the world – posted a story that went viral: “Battle to Save the Hugging Chimps: Heartbreaking Story of 66 Apes and a Baby ‘Abandoned’ on Island by Medical Firm after They Finished Experimenting on Them.”
NYBC Chairman Howard Milstein cut funding to provide food and water to the organization’s lab chimps after earning $500 million in royalties off of the research.
Security was tight at the NY Blood Center, with a guard stationed at the door to prevent another protest inside the building. But that didn’t stop 15 activists from charging past him; occupying the lobby for 30 minutes; and using a bullhorn to ensure that employees throughout the building could hear about the crimes committed by their employer and the demand to reinstate funding for the chimps who they left to die with no food or water.
Jane Velez-Mitchell and Donna Dennison from JaneUnchained were there to document the disruption and the reaction from the NY Blood Center:
In May, the NY Blood Center told the NY Times it has no “contractual obligation” to care for their former lab chimps. That’s not good enough for leaders in the great ape community, including Dr. Jane Goodall, who say that NYBC has an ethical obligation. Like the grass roots activists who have staged two protests in their lobby, they are demanding that the NYBC reinstate the funding.
Activists occupy NY Blood Center to demand that its executives reinstate funding for the lab chimps they abandoned
Will NYBC executives continue to dig in their heels with the hope that activists will abandon their efforts to hold the them accountable? Or will they reinstate the funding for the chimps in order to prevent similar protests at the homes and offices of their executives, board members and donors?
Activists unroll police tape to convey the message that the NYBC is a crime scene
Hendry County, Florida, a rural area virtually unknown outside of its own borders, is hardly a hotbed for animal-rights activism. Perhaps that is why Jessica Thomas, a nearby resident, surprised even herself when, during a conference of regional government and business leaders, she jumped onto the stage to display her #MonkeyGate t-shirt to protest County officials’ efforts to turn Hendry into the nation’s lab monkey breeding capital. Her spur of the moment decision led to several local news stories that project their message to a much wider audience.
After she was escorted off the stage, Ms. Thomas told the audience, “We’ve had enough of monkey experimentation and monkey abuse happening in Hendry County, and everyone needs to know about it.”
Activist Jessica Thomas, who lives near one of the four monkey breeding facilities, says, “We have to stand up against injustice.”
Hendry County is now home to two primate breeding facilities that house thousands of monkeys. Two more that would bring thousands of additional monkeys are under construction, and area residents are determined to shut them down.
Bioculture, a company that was expelled from Puerto Rico by its Supreme Court, is one of two new monkey breeding facilities under construction in Hendry County.
Hendry County is home to four facilities that breed monkeys for lab experiments. Two are fully operational; two are under construction.
In addition to animal cruelty, neighborhood activists have expressed grave concerns about the spread of disease from the monkeys to humans and other animals; groundwater contamination with toxic monkey waste; the effect of monkey breeding facilities on property values; and the impact of escaped monkeys on the local environment. The nearby Everglades are already under siege by non-native invasive species.
Hundreds of non-native wild macaque monkeys with herpes B virus live in Florida (photo: Graham McGeorge/ Barcroft Media)
Dr. Madeleine Doran tells reporters that residents do not want their community to be the nation’s lab monkey breeding capital.
“County officials, who have much to gain financially from these monkey breeders, thought they could sneak these companies into our community because most of us are too focused on making ends meet to put up resistance,” Jessica Thomas said after the disruption. “They didn’t think residents would rise up to protest their secrecy, not to mention the cruelty and public health issues associated with breeding thousands of monkeys in and near residential areas.”
In March, a whistleblower said that Primate Products, a Hendry County monkey breeder that makes primate restraining devices, was illegally performing c-section abortions on pregnant monkeys in order to harvest and sell the fetal organs.
After the disruption, Ms. Thomas told reporters, “It was a spur of the moment decision to jump onto the stage. I saw all of these community leaders assembled in one place, and I realized that, if I don’t protest the people responsible for these injustices in this high profile setting, then how can we expect them to take our demands seriously? After all, they’ve refused to answer our questions for over a year.”
Jessica Thomas disrupts Greg Gillman, the President of the Hendry County Economic Council who is largely responsible for bringing monkey breeding companies into the County.
Independent journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell of Jane UnChained, who traveled from New York to report on the press conference, asked Hendry Commissioner Karson Turner why the County didn’t hold public hearings before approving the monkey breeding facilities, as required by Florida’s Sunshine Law. In response, Mr. Turner, who has been an advocate for the facilities, said he would meet with the community. “That is welcome news to those who have been trying to have a dialog with the Commissioners for over a year,” said Velez-Mitchell.
Animal rights activists in Florida protest Primate Products, one of four monkey breeding facilities in Hendry County.
In November 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit against Hendry County or failing to hold a public hearing about the approval of Primera Science Center, one of the two new monkey breeding facility approved in secret by County commissioners. The lawsuit is ongoing.
Ask Hendry County’s five commissioners to stop the construction of the Bioculture and Primera Science Center monkey breeding facilities pending county and/or state investigations: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Primate Products, a monkey breeding company at the center of the MonkeyGate scandal in Hendry County, Florida, assigned invasive surgeries to vet techs instead of veterinarians – in violation of state law. David Roebuck, a former employee at the Florida company, told TheirTurn that vet techs performed C-section abortions on pregnant monkeys so that the company could sell the fetal organs and the mothers’ milk.
Primate Products lab monkeys
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “Veterinary technicians can assist in performing a wide variety of tasks, but they cannot diagnose, prescribe, perform surgery, or engage in any activity prohibited by a state’s veterinary practice act.”
Mr. Roebuck’s account of the surgeries has been corroborated by Wink News, a local TV station that obtained Primate Products’ “Standard Operating Procedure” manual. The manual provides instructions on how to cut open a pregnant monkey and extract the fetus — a tutorial that a licensed and trained veterinarian would not need. When asked by a local reporter, Primate Products president, Thomas Rowell, did not deny the charges. The company has not respond to TheirTurn’s inquiries.
Mr. Roebuck, who was employed by Primate Products in 2008, was tasked with vacuum packing the monkey fetus organs. He resigned after one week on the job when his supervisor told him the monkey surgeries were routine: “If you know what a deep freezer looks like, there were two of those, filled with parts.”
According to Primate Products, the restrainer provides “trouble-free accessibility”
A representative from the Florida Medical Veterinary Association said surgery is an “unlicensed activity” for a vet tech and that the supervising veterinarian would be accountable under state law.
According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, a non-veterinarian practicing veterinary medicine is subject to a $3,000 – $5,000 fine for each count. A veterinarian who knowingly employs unlicensed persons in the practice of veterinary medicine is subject to both monetary fines and probation or suspension.
Local residents have asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to launch an independent investigation. In addition, a formal complaint with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is being prepared.
Monkey breeding farm (photo: Alon Ron)
Holly Cheever, a founding member of the Leadership Council of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, said “a well-trained and compassionate licensed veterinary technician is an invaluable part of a veterinary practice, providing superb skills and a gentle touch to his/her patients, but their skill set does not include the performance of either simple or advanced surgeries. They receive no training in surgical skills or techniques.”
Smash HLS protests Primate Products
In addition to violating state veterinary laws, Primate Products breached zoning laws in Hendry County by performing surgery on land zoned for agricultural purposes. Charles Chapman, the County Administrator, said that the procedures brought to his attention are not agricultural. On March 27th, Hendry County launched an investigation.
Notice of investigation
Please ask Hendry County’s five commissioners to stop the expansion of Primate Products pending county and/or state investigations: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Primate Products’ monkey breeding & lab equipment manufacturing facility in Hendry County, Florida
The duplicitous officials of Hendry County, Florida almost pulled it off — green lighting a 32 acre monkey breeding facility without informing the community or holding a public hearing, which is required by the state’s “Sunshine Law.”
But, in November, 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) stepped in and filed a lawsuit after learning about Hendry’s underhanded and illegal maneuver. The plaintiffs, Hendry County residents, argue that they were denied their legal right to publicly comment on a facility that, if built, would house thousands of exotic animals who could potentially escape and/or spread disease before being shipped to laboratories around the country.
Lab monkey (photo: PETA)
Hendry County has asked the court to dismiss ALDF’s case on the grounds that the Florida’s Sunshine Law does not mandate public hearings for the approval of “agricultural” facilities. But ALDF asserts that monkeys are wild, not agricultural, animals. On Thursday, a Hendry County judge will hear arguments from both sides at a court hearing that is open to the public. In the meantime, Jane Velez-Mitchell breaks down the issues in this JaneUnchained exclusive:
The hearing will take place just one week after PETA made the shocking announcement that the number of animals being used each year in federally-funded labs rose from approximately 75,000 in 1997 to to 129,000 in 2012.
If you live in Florida, please consider attending a rally that will held in conjunction with the hearing. Jane Velez-Mitchell will be there to report on the hearing and the rally.