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Puerto Rican residents vow to fight planned monkey facility

RESIDENTS of a Puerto Rican town are vowing to fight a planned monkey-breeding facility over fears 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 on Friday they don't want their southern coastal town to become another Lajas -- a town now plagued by monkeys that escaped from research facilities decades ago.

"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 United States Caribbean territory and its resident commissioner to halt the project, Brito said.

Construction of the 1,200-square-meter 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.

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

Bioculture had considered building the facility in south Florida, but opted for Puerto Rico as it's pharmaceutical firms 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, maybe even swine flu vaccines.

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 DC-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


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