After another monkey death was reported by Hendry County's Primate Products Inc., a national watchdog group is calling on the feds to revoke the animal dealer's license. Stop Animal Exploitation Now! says the latest death is a part of a pattern of negligence and abuse.
"There are over 1,000 animal research facilities in the U.S., and I would say Primate Products is among the worst," says SAEN executive director Michael Budkie. "It would be one thing if this was the only time a nonhuman primate died at Primate Products, but this obviously is not the case."
On July 6, Primate Products reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that a monkey was found dead, trapped between an internal swinging gate and the post supporting it. In a letter to the Division of Compliance Oversight, Primate Products' president Thomas Rowell explained that his firm's inspection revealed that the gate was in working order. He called the accident "unforeseeable and unavoidable."
In a message to New Times, Rowell explained: "PPI’s Animal Care and Use Committee investigated the death and concluded on 12 August that the incident was unforeseeable and unavoidable and not the result of a faulty cage. [Office of Laboratory Welfare] concurred with the conclusions of the committee and with the actions taken by the institution to comply with [Public Healthy Service] Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals."
But Budkie doesn't buy it. "Being trapped like that, animals die from lack of water before a lack of food," he says. "The other possibility, depending on how it was trapped or stuck, if it involved the neck, it might've led to something like suffocation...This is an indication that they're not observing animals adequately. If they were, they would have found the animal before it died...This doesn't happen at other facilities."
He explains that the macaque monkeys are very smart and curious creatures. When they're put into cages, they tend not to receive enough stimulation, grow bored, and then play with whatever they can — a swing gate or an electrical cord.
"These animals are not receiving enough environmental stimulation to keep them occupied," Budkie says. "There's no way any enclosure can be adequate for the macaque since their natural habitat has them covering one square mile a day."
In January 2014, three monkeys were found dead after they accidentally chewed through a heat lamp's electrical cord left in their cages. A year later, a PETA employee infiltrated the facility and documented the grim conditions, which included monkeys with untreated injuries, small cages, and aggressive staff. Later that year, the USDA inspected the facility and found more violations: taff were shaking monkeys upside down, using fingers to push prolapsed anuses without anesthesia. Surgeries (like amputations and suturing) were done in unsanitary outdoor areas, and staff yanked aggressively on monkeys tails.
Recently, with the latest Zika outbreak in South Florida, there have been concerns that Primate Products will become a Zika incubator since primates are kept in outdoor cages and can also carry the virus. Infected monkeys have already been discovered in Zika-affected towns in Brazil.
In an email forwarded to New Times, the USDA confirmed that it currently has an open investigation into facility.
"Hopefully this [most recent incident] will be enough for a severe penalty," Budkie says. "We're seeking [to remove] their license as an animal dealer."
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.