Monkey-breeding facility in PR faces opposition

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Residents of a Puerto Rican town
are vowing to fight a planned monkey-breeding facility for fear
that the primates will escape and overrun their community.

The facility, which will supply monkeys to pharmaceutical
companies for research, was cleared for construction this week.

Locals in Guayama said Friday they don't want their southern
coastal town to become another Lajas - a town that today is plagued
by monkeys that escaped decades ago from research facilities.

"It is certain that some monkeys are going to escape," Guayama
community leader Roberto Brito said. "This will affect agriculture
and people's health. ... We are not going to give up. We do not
want the project there."

But Mauritius-based company Bioculture's local development and
community coordinator, Jacinto Rivera Solivan, disputed the claim,
saying the "probability of a monkey escaping is zero."

Hundreds of people are signing a petition asking the governor of
the U.S. Caribbean territory and its resident commissioner to halt
the project, Brito said.

Construction of the 13,000-square-foot facility was temporarily
suspended because Bioculture did not have the appropriate
environmental permits, said Francisco Gonzalez Suarez, Guayama city
planner.

They were awarded the permits this week, he said, but residents
question why public hearings were not held.

Spokesman Felix Figueroa said Guayama Mayor Glorimari Jaime was
not available for comment.

The facility will hold at least 3,000 macaque monkeys that will
be sold for up to $3,000 each, Gonzalez said.

Bioculture had considered building the facility in south
Florida, but opted for Puerto Rico because the island's
pharmaceutical companies could test the animals without having to
transport them elsewhere, Rivera said. The monkeys will be used to
test a range of medications for humans, possibly even swine flu
vaccines.

The facility will have two emergency rooms for injured or sick
monkeys. It also will feature cages with a triple-lock system,
meaning that workers will have to access two doors before reaching
the monkeys, he said.

Animal activists have called the project cruel and warn it will
damage Puerto Rico's image.

Hundreds of monkeys from the new breeding facility will be
killed when they are no longer needed for research, said Hope
Ferdowsian, research policy director of the Washington D.C.-based
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The island came under international criticism two years ago
after about 80 dogs and cats were confiscated from housing projects
and thrown off a bridge. Last year, an investigation by The
Associated Press found that more than 400 racehorses in Puerto Rico
are killed yearly by injection even though many are healthy.

Authorities in Puerto Rico have resorted to shooting monkeys
they catch that belong to an estimated population of 1,000 running
around the Lajas Valley in the island's southwest region.

The monkeys arrived in the 1960s and '70s after escaping labs on
nearby islands. They are blamed for causing nearly $300,000 in
damage each year as they plunder crops such as pineapples and
melons.

Puerto Rico is so anxious to get rid of those runaway primates
that officials sent a group of them to a zoo in Iraq earlier this
year.


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