Caloosa Belle

Court will decide primate question

Animal activists protest primate breeding facilities dressed as caged monkeys in Clewiston recently. (Submitted photo/Melissa Beltz)

The long standing question of whether or not two primate breeding facilities in Hendry County are legal was passed along through the courts recently when Circuit Judge James D. Sloan denied summary judgments sought by both parties. Animal activists have been adamant that Hendry County violated the Sunshine Law by not holding public hearings before allowing SoFlo Ag and Panther Tracts to open primate breeding facilities.

Public hearings are required for certain government actions to involve the public in an important issue or impending government action. Hendry County has always asserted that breeding primates is an agricultural pursuit which is taking place in agricultural zoning. Therefore, public hearings were not required.

In a summary judgment, a plaintiff and a defendant offer evidence and ask that the judge make a decision without resorting to a trial.

However, Judge Sloan found that there are “justiciable” facts in the case that can only be decided in a trial. No date has been set at this time.

Residents living near the SoFlo Ag facility, as well as animal rights activists from around the state, have been very vocal with their criticism over the past few years, bringing their concerns to board of county commissioner meetings en masse. One such dramatic demonstration took place again at the last Hendry County Commission meeting in Clewiston January 12.

A press release from the Animal Legal Defense Fund ALDF said it will challenge “Hendry County, Florida’s approval of development permits for two new primate breeding facilities . . . The lawsuit, on behalf of local landowners, alleges that the county’s permitting of the SoFlo Ag and Panther Tracts primate breeding facilities in closed-door conferences, without public notice or meetings, violated the state’s open government law, the Sunshine Law. ALDF looks forward to demonstrating the county’s legal violation at trial and vindicating the rights of local landowners shut out of the government decision-making process on this crucial issue.”

Animal rights activists allege that the monkeys are abused and that thousands will be sold for research purposes. Critics of the facilities believe that they can also create health hazards for humans if monkeys escape from them and that they may also cause ecosystem or water degradation.