Munching on leafy greens and climbing through wooded playgrounds, about 500 crab-eating macaque monkeys were acclimating to their new home in the Ben Shemen Forest on Tuesday.
By next week, the transfer of all 650 born-in-thewild Mauritian macaques from Mazor Farm to the Ben Shemen Monkey Park’s sanctuary will be complete.
Activists have long been battling the activities of Mazor Farm, located on Moshav Mazor southeast of Petah Tikva, which has bred macaque monkeys for two decades and exported them for medical purposes.
The macaques being transferred to the Ben Shemen sanctuary are predominantly females born in Mauritius, who were purchased by the Mazor Farm owners for breeding purposes. The Environmental Protection Ministry has invested NIS 4.5 million in their transfer to the sanctuary, as well as in infrastructural upgrades at the sanctuary necessary for their absorption.
“What they are getting now is what they are missing since they left home from Mauritius,” said Dr.
Tamar Fredman, director of the Israeli Primate Sanctuary Foundation, which runs the rehabilitation center within the Ben Shemen Forest Monkey Park.
“They’ve got ground under their feet, branches to climb on,” she told The Jerusalem Post during a tour of the site on Tuesday. “Macaque monkeys have all kinds of stone games. They are bringing stones into their wooden houses and playing with them.”
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The monkeys have been arriving to the sanctuary in groups of roughly 40, with one male per group, Fredman said. They essentially maintain the same groups they lived in at the Mazor Farm. At the farm, however, they lived together in 6-by-6-square meter concrete enclaves, she explained.
At the sanctuary, in which the macaques can be seen swinging on wooden jungle gyms and climbing on the expansive fences, Fredman said she observes them maintaining a group structure.
“All these monkeys lost their babies,” she said, noting, however, that many of them have formed friendships.
The remaining 1,250 monkeys bred in captivity at Mazor Farm also recently received good news. While they are still on the grounds of the farm, the monkeys are being redeemed through an approximately $2 million donation from Israeli-American businessman Ady Gil, through the Monkey Rescue organization – chaired by Gil and Amos Ron, who has served in several senior roles in various government ministries and authorities.
“Monkey Rescue will soon locate an area for their sanctuary which will be built in the coming year,” a spokesman for the Shut Down Mazor Farm movement and the Monkey Rescue told the Post on Tuesday. “They will be then transferred there. Until then they are kept in the farm, under the current staff supervision.”
The Mazor Farm stopped exporting monkeys born in the wild for experimental use in June 2012, following a High Court of Justice ruling. In January 2013, meanwhile, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein supported then-environmental protection minister Gilad Erdan’s decision that the Mazor Farm be entirely shut down by January 2015. As per government determinations, it is illegal to export any monkey born after January 15, 2015, the Environment Ministry said.
On December 17, Weinstein approved two Mazor Farm requests to export 240 and 200 monkeys, respectively, to farms in the United States, where they would be used for medical research. He approved a portion of a similar third request, authorizing the export of 120 out of a requested 440 for medical research purposes in the US. Regarding the remaining 320, Weinstein wrote in his decision that insufficient information had been supplied about their intended destination.
On December 22, Gil announced that he would donate the money necessary to rescue all of the monkeys.
Monkey rescue obtained ownership of all the monkeys, meaning they will not be exported, the NGO said.
“Israel will no longer be a country from which monkeys are exported for experimentation,” Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ophir Akunis said during the Ben Shemen sanctuary tour on Tuesday.
“This is a great achievement of the Environmental Protection Ministry, and we must give credit to all of the organizations that led the struggle and whose voice was heard. Together, we brought relief to the monkeys.”
At the Ben Shemen sanctuary, the 650 macaques arriving from Mazor are joining about 120 other primates in facilities that are closed to the public, Fredman said. These 120 animals typically came either from legal scientific laboratories or illegal kibbutz farms. Also living on the site of the Monkey Park are 170 primates in an area open to visitors.
Founded in 1996, the Israeli Primate Sanctuary Foundation initially concentrated on preventing the smuggling of monkeys into the Israeli black market, from which people purchased the animals as illegal pets, according to Fredman. About a decade ago, the foundation began working to stop monkey breeding at kibbutz farms, she said.
Many kibbutz petting zoos with existing monkey populations are able to acquire permits for the animals from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, but new zoos cannot obtain such permits and scarcely populated zoos are being consolidated, Fredman explained.
“Monkeys need monkey-company,” she said.
Crediting the Environmental Protection Ministry for contributing funds that were crucial to taking care of the transfered monkeys, Fredman said that the facility requires much more money for continued infrastructure and maintenance improvements.
“These are exciting times,” she said. “We just don’t have time to get excited, because we have to get ready for the next group and the next group.”
Describing the situation of primates around the world as “very, very bad,” as they are continuously hunted for meat and traded, Fredman said she is optimistic for the future of monkeys in Israel.
“For 20 years, different activist groups have been working for Mazor Farm to close, and the credit has to go to all the activists who did that,” she said. “I think things are changing.”
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