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
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
"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
"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
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.