Fate of 1,250 monkeys in central Israel remains uncertain

Activists fought to end exports, minimize experimentation on macaques

December 29, 2016 02:55
4 minute read.
MACAQUE MONKEYS facing an uncertain future walk through their cage on the Mazor Farm near Petah Tikv

MACAQUE MONKEYS facing an uncertain future walk through their cage on the Mazor Farm near Petah Tikva yesterday.. (photo credit: MONKEY RESCUES)

When the New Year rolls around next week, some 1,250 monkeys in a central Israel farm may be at risk of starving to death or decaying in their own filth, activists warn.

Two years ago, the Monkey Rescue organization purchased the rights to the remaining inhabitants of the controversial Mazor Farm (BFC Monkeys Breeding Farm Ltd.) in an attempt to save the animals from potential experimentation abroad. As funding for the monkeys expires this weekend, the group’s leaders are calling upon the government to step in and fulfill promises they say officials made prior to the purchase.

“Either the government comes in and allocates a budget for the maintenance of the monkeys, or they will have another few days of food that is brought in by volunteers,” Amos Ron, the head of Monkey Rescue, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “After that, even if I will come in personally to bring some food, they will die from malnutrition and from disease because there will be no one there to clean their cages.”

In December 2014, Monkey Rescue paid for the rights to redeem the monkeys through a $2 million donation from Israeli-American Ady Gil, who has since also been providing about NIS 150,000 per month to maintain and feed the monkeys, Ron explained.

The Mazor Farm, located on Moshav Mazor southeast of Petah Tikva, bred macaque monkeys for two decades and exported them for medical purposes. For years, activists had been fighting to shut down the farm entirely, in a bid to end the export of these animals and minimize experimentation on them.

Following a High Court of Justice ruling in June 2012, the farm stopped exporting monkeys that had been caught in the wild in Mauritius. The same, however, was not ordered for monkeys bred in captivity on the Mazor Farm.

In January 2013, then attorney- general Yehuda Weinstein supported then-environmental protection minister Gilad Erdan’s decision that farm should be entirely shut down by January 2015. The government also determined that it would be illegal to export any monkey born after January 15, 2015, including those bred in captivity.

The Environmental Protection Ministry ultimately decided to invest NIS 4.5 million in transferring 650 monkeys that were born in the wild from the Mazor Farm to the Ben Shemen Monkey Park’s sanctuary – a move that occurred in January 2015. Nonetheless, the fate of the 1,250 monkeys that were born in captivity on the farm was still uncertain.

In mid-December 2014, Weinstein approved two Mazor Farm requests to export several hundred of these monkeys for medical research purposes to laboratories in the United States. After raising the necessary funds from Gil to prevent their export, Monkey Rescue took responsibility for their safekeeping.

“We had an agreement with BFC to pay the maintenance of the monkeys for two years, based on the assumption that within these two years we would reach an agreement that was promised to us to relocate the monkeys to Ben Shemen,” Ron said.

Ron, who was a former director- general of the Israel Ports Authority and served in several senior government roles, was drawn into the campaign as a result of his son’s involvement in the efforts to save the monkeys.

According to Ron, MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union), who succeeded Erdan as environmental protection minister, promised the organization that the government would provide a new shelter for the monkeys.

Yet neither Peretz nor any of the ministers that have succeeded him have brought this plan to fruition, he said.

Stressing that he has submitted programs detailing how the government and the NGO might share the burden, Ron said that the ministry has been ignoring him for two years. Meanwhile, Monkey Rescue’s contract to fund the animals ends on December 31.

“That’s the last date any of us have any contractual obligation to the monkeys,” he added.

Monkey Rescue is calling upon members of the public to come to the Mazor Farm on Friday morning at 10 a.m. to donate a variety of fruits and vegetables so that the monkeys have something to eat in the coming days. The organization is requesting yams, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini and apples – but not bananas, as the peels are difficult to clean.

Meanwhile, Ron said he has sent letters to the head of Moshav Mazor as well as to Health Ministry officials, warning them about the potential public health risks area residents could face if the monkeys die in their midst. The organization has also filed an appeal to the High Court of Justice, and the matter is awaiting further discussion.

“It is so disappointing that a government that says it is the most progressive in the region and maybe in the world, in human rights and animal rights, behaves in such a manner,” Ron said. “It’s just shameful.”

In response to the situation, the Environmental Protection Ministry denied that its officials made the promises that Ron described but affirmed that talks among the parties would be taking place.

“Although the state has no legal liability on the subject, the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Finance Ministry have agreed to enter into negotiations with the petitioner, to try and help find a solution to the issue of taking care of the monkeys, for which the petitioner claimed responsibility,” a statement from the ministry said.

“Accordingly, a meeting was scheduled among the parties.”

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