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Third monkey breeding center in Hendry County raises questions

 

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/local-news/third-monkey-breeding-center-in-hendry-county-raises-questions_90590222

Third monkey breeding center in Hendry County raises questions

September 3, 2014

NAPLES, Fla. - The last time anyone counted, Hendry County had more than 400 farms growing everything from sugar cane to vegetables.

But there's another kind of crop in Collier's neighboring county to the north that isn't listed on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's farm census from 2012.

Monkey farms have been doing business tucked away along Hendry County's rural back roads for more than a decade, a relative newcomer compared with Hendry's cattle ranching roots.

Now, a third monkey breeding center under construction along the Hendry-Lee county line is raising the county's profile in the U.S. medical research monkey supply chain -- and raising questions from animal advocates.

Florida Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, whose district stretches to Hendry County, has called for the Chicago-based company behind the new center to hold a public meeting to talk about its plans, which Hendry County approved in 2013 under its animal husbandry laws.

"There were some gaping holes and unanswered questions I think the public and more importantly public officials need to be asking as well," Bullard said last week.

Bullard, who also intervened in the oil drilling dispute that erupted in Collier County this summer, wants to know more about who's in charge at the breeding center, what sort of safeguards are in place and what sort of environmental or public health risks exist should the nonnative monkeys escape.

Science trade-show fliers and primerasciencecenter.com, show a company called PreLabs LLC is behind the planned Primera Science Center on 43 acres east of Lehigh Acres. It would house 3,000 monkeys in a first phase.

Monkeys would live in indoor-outdoor enclosures designed to withstand hurricane winds up to 150 mph, says the flier, which lauds Hendry's subtropical climate, skilled local labor force and location near an international airport and major highways.

"Developing a state of the art, nonhuman primate center of excellence, which facilitates global collaborations in support of innovative preclinical solutions," says the flier, describing the Primera Science Center's mission.

It will also make money: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration paid PreLabs more than $61,000 for eight female rhesus monkeys in 2013, including crates, shipping and health tests, an FDA contract notice shows.

The only statement from PreLabs about its Hendry County plans came in May, after an unflattering report about the international monkey trade on the HLN network earlier this year.

The statement, issued anonymously by "Primera Management," called the HLN report distorted and sensationalist, blamed animal rights extremists for spreading misinformation and refuted speculation that Primera's monkeys would be coming from Mauritius, an island off the east coast of Africa, the focus of the HLN report.

"We want to assure Hendry County residents that Primera is in full compliance with rules, guidelines and laws at the local, state and federal levels," the statement reads. "Primera is committed to meeting the highest standards with the utmost respect for the safety and preservation of the surrounding environment. We welcome the opportunity to discuss any relevant issues with the appropriate local, state and federal officials."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all have licensing and inspection roles at monkey farms.

Primera officials couldn't be reached for comment last week; when a Daily News reporter identified himself on a cellphone call to PreLabs CEO Boris Predovich, the line went dead.

Alva resident Keely Cinkota, who lives about five miles from the Primera site, said the company's secrecy raises red flags for her and that only the company dropping its plans would resolve her concerns.

"It's wrong, it's totally wrong," she said. "The life they're being raised for is totally wrong."

Hendry County already is home to two monkey farms, one run by the Homestead-based Mannheimer Foundation on a ranch between LaBelle and Clewiston and one run by Primate Products on 640 acres east of Immokalee. Both of those groups also are licensed to do primate research. Neither could be reached for comment last week.

USDA reports listed 460 macaques at Primate Products in June 2014; earlier reports listed more than 1,000 monkeys there. More than 2,360 macaques were listed for the Mannheimer Foundation ranch in July 2013, USDA reports show.

Primate Products calls its Hendry County location the Panther Tracks Learning Center, which offers education and training programs for monkey handlers besides being a breeding and research center, according to its website.

Plans filed with Hendry County government in 2012 lay out an expansion at Panther Tracks that would increase the number of monkey pens from 28 to 76, but county officials said last week they have only approved an expansion of three enclosures and two office buildings.

The Primera plans and the expansion at Panther Tracks point to a trend toward boosting captive-bred populations of monkeys in the U.S. as the industry gets pushed out of other parts of the world, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida campaigns coordinator Nick Atwood said.

He said animal rights groups are having success in persuading airlines to stop shipping primates from overseas, and in a groundbreaking precedent, Israel banned research on monkeys starting in January 2015.

Hendry County's warm climate and history of welcoming monkey breeding centers in the name of job creation make it a prime target for monkey breeders and research, Atwood said.

"I don't think I'd want my county to be known as the primate breeding center of the country," he said.

Bullard, the state senator calling for a public meeting, said he doesn't think it's good policy to sacrifice public health and safety or risk introducing invasive species to an ecosystem in the name of jobs. A public meeting would help inform the community's choice, he said.

"I'm not going to stand in the way of progress. If that's what the community wants, they have my full support," he said.

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