At least 21 owl monkeys have died after being sent to Miami for retirement, and the finger pointing has begun.
An effort to save the lives of 101 research monkeys shipped to Miami has been botched, leaving at least 21 of them dead.
The fate of the others is unknown, and there appears to be plenty of blame to spread around.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the owl monkeys to Primate Products, a controversial Miami company that sells monkeys for research. The CDC told NBCMiami that the intent was to find these monkeys a good retirement after a lifetime of experimentation in labs.
Instead, they were mishandled, and many died.
Owl monkeys, so named because of their big eyes, are extraordinarily delicate. They mate in pairs for life. Research says if they are all put together in one cage, no matter how big, they stress, their hearts enlarge and they can die.
The CDC says in May 2009 it gave all the monkeys a clean bill of health before sending them to Primate Products. But an email from an anonymous employee sent to the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida says, "Primate Products couldn't sell them, so gave them to some place called Everglades Outpost...they had been sick here at Primate Products."
Everglades Outpost is a non-profit roadside zoo near the entrance to Everglades National Park. It’s run by a husband and wife team who live on the property and a cadre of dedicated and well-intentioned volunteers.
Workers at Everglades Outpost say Primate Products was going to euthanize the monkeys. Barbara Tansen, whose husband owns Everglades Outpost, said, “It was just sad that we took them so they wouldn't be euthanize. Did everything we could.”
The USDA inspection says Everglades Outpost took 61 of the owl monkeys, July 9, 2009, from Primate Products. Eleven died within hours. Six died next day. Three died day after.
Then an additional 31 owl monkeys were trucked from Primate Products July 15, 2009. Six died within 48 hours.
"Well, I'm outraged,” says Don Anthony, spokesperson for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. “I'm outraged about the fact that…monkeys are dead because of someone's either negligence or ignorance on how to take care of them."
"A lot of them that were paired up,” explained an earnest Albert Killian, an Everglades Outpost worker, “Ok, were kept in separate cages by themselves. But then there were a bunch that were just grouped together they we, just, you know, we don't have that many cages, ok? So this was adequate enough because I thought it was large enough."
Killian and Jonathan Shoemaker, who drove to Primate Products and brought the monkeys back, installed trees and shrubs, climbing tools and housing in two cages about 50x100 feet – and they say it looked like the monkeys were having a great time. He says he saw no violence.
But the USDA report says Everglades Outpost demonstrated "a lack of knowledge and experience regarding basic housing and social needs of this species." And "the sudden group housing....caused overt behavior stress and physical trauma."
“We did the best that we could,” repeated Tansen. "The alternative was they were gonna euthanize them."
"They were gonna euthanize them,” says Killian. “They were gonna kill em all. But they're not gonna tell you that."
"Did they ever tell you 'don't put em in group housing'?" asked reporter Jeff Burnside.
"They never told you that?"
NBCMiami was unable to reach Primate Products late Friday evening for immediate comment.
The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida is asking for a full investigation, but the USDA and the CDC have not said yet whether anyone will be disciplined.
Everglades Outpost has no more owl monkeys. The survivors were taken elsewhere, and NBCMiami is trying to determine whether any are still alive.