11 min read

Mysterious Facility Looks To Sell Baby Monkeys For Use In Experiments

<p> <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/beggs/4184146589">Flickr/Brian Jeffery Beggerly</a><span></span> </p>

A mysterious company wants to build a breeding facility in Florida to produce baby monkeys for lab experiments, and local residents and animal activists are outraged.

"The Western world is moving away from primate testing," journalist and animal activist Jane Velez-Mitchell told The Dodo. "The idea that Florida wants to become a hub for breeding monkeys for these tortuous experiments is very concerning."

Though no one's sure who is really behind the Hendry County facility, Animal Defenders International has claimed that a company called PreLabs is involved and is planning to source about 3,200 long-tailed macaques from an affiliated company called Biodia in Mauritius. PreLabs, which is based in Illinois, vaguely describes its purpose as "providing discovery and preclinical solutions in various research models with a focus on nonhuman primates." ADI claims that PreLabs plans to mirror the operations of Biodia, where a previous ADI investigation revealed the factory-farmed monkeys experienced "horrific" abuse.

ADI reported seeing monkeys captured from the wild being used in the Mauritian breeding facility, "distressed" babies being torn from their mothers, overcrowded cages, monkeys being injured or dying from fighting with each other and animals being slammed into concrete floors. And those abuses still don't compare to what the animals will experience if they're actually sold to U.S. research labs for experimentation.

In addition to the experiments themselves - which often involve painful surgical procedures or outright physical abuse, sometimes with no or insufficient anaesthetic - lab animals are cut off from others of their own kind, left to go thirsty or hungry and experience severe emotional trauma.

"There's no doubt that primates in labs suffer," Jennifer Ball, a project manager for The Humane Society of the United States, told The Dodo. She added that one undercover investigation at Georgia Regents University in 2013 showed monkeys suffering from severe psychological distress, with many spinning around in their cramped cages and some bleeding from tearing out their own hair.

In addition, she said, the process of capturing these monkeys from the wild causes severe stress to the animals, and many die while in transit or during the quarantine period once they arrive in the country.

Christina Scaringe, general counsel for ADI, told The Dodo that Florida could develop into a leading supplier for primates used in "cruel, redundant" lab experimentation if facilities like the proposed Hendry County operation aren't shut down. There are already at least two other primate breeding facilities nearby.

"Both the public and scientific community are increasingly concerned about the use of these intelligent, social animals in laboratory research and the effect of the trade on conservation of the species in the wild," she said, explaining that new research technologies have been proven more effective and efficient.

According to Ball, there were around 110,000 primates held in labs in the U.S. in 2013. Bringing another 3,200 breeding macaques into the country would lead to tens of thousands of new lives destined to end up as experiments, subjected to gruesome conditions. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Hendry County in November on behalf of worried residents, who became suspicious of the new facility when they were neither notified of plans nor given the opportunity to discuss it within the community.

The facility is backed by "a mysterious entity called SoFlo Ag LLC," according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also reports that PreLabs was mentioned at a local board meeting, but it's unclear whether SoFlo Ag LLC is a front for PreLabs or whether the companies are connected in some other way. On repeated state filings, according to the lawsuit, SoFlo Ag LLC listed its primary office location as a UPS mailbox. The company also listed as its manager an entity called "XII LLC," which doesn't seem to exist.

The county has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and a hearing is scheduled for this Thursday to determine whether it can go forward. Activists are calling for supporters to show their support by gathering at the Hendry County Planning & Zoning Department.

UPDATE: A judge has denied Hendry County's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and the lawsuit will move forward.

"This is an issue that will determine the fate of thousands and thousands of monkeys and whether they are subjected, in many cases, to horrific experiments," Velez-Mitchell said. "These monkeys cannot speak for themselves. We have to speak for them ... They are innocent."

In a strangely similar case that provides a hopeful precedent for this one, a Puerto Rican facility was prohibited from opening in 2012 because the Puerto Rican Supreme Court declared that it was constructed illegally. The company, Bioculture, was also planning to ship 4,000 macaques from Mauritius to the U.S. territory for breeding.

The last thing the U.S. needs is another facility for breeding lab primates. Many of the experiments carried out on sentient beings are either superfluous or could be conducted just as efficiently through other methods. For example, the National Institutes of Health spent years carrying out a series of maternal deprivation studies on monkeys that have been criticized by scientists and animal activists alike.

During the experiments, which were designed to study how psychological trauma and genetics affect development, the NIH snatched newborn rhesus monkeys away from their mothers and subjected them to severe trauma in an effort to induce psychopathology. These practices including trapping them in cages with pretend snakes, which monkeys are innately terrified of, and drugging the mothers so their babies would panic, believing that their mothers were sick or dying.

The NIH study was widely criticized by figures as diverse as primatologist Jane Goodall, neuroscience professors and members of Congress. And even former NIH director Elias Zerhouni has lamented the inefficiencies of using animals in lab research.

"We have moved away from studying human disease in humans," he said during a talk in 2013. "We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included."

If you'd like to help stop the new operation and are in the Hendry County area, you can join residents and activists in protesting the facility on Thursday. You can also contact Hendry County to let them know that you don't want Florida to turn into a hub for breeding laboratory monkeys.