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Small Georgia town could be home to thousands of monkeys despite protests

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The future of a small town lies in the hands of a Georgia appeals court. On Thursday, June 13, a panel of three judges heard arguments about whether to allow plans to build a monkey breeding facility in Bainbridge to move forward. 

Bainbridge is a town of about 14,000 residents in the southwestern corner of Georgia. The massive facility would eventually house 30,000 long-tailed macaques. 

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In December, Bainbridge city leaders gave Safer Human Medicine — an organization that uses the monkeys for testing — approval to build the facility and granted a bond resolution that included at 10-year tax abatement. Work began quickly to clear land for the project, just a few hundred feet from peoples’ homes. 

The town’s residents raised concerns, with the backing of groups like PETA. By February, Decatur County commissioners had unanimously voted to withdraw their support for the facility. 

Now, the appeals court will decide whether to invalidate the bond promised to Safer Human Medicine.

Among Bainbridge residents’ concerns are wastewater contamination in proximity of their homes and the possibility of a monkey escaping. Macaques are known carriers of the herpes B virus and locals are concerned about the potential to spread disease, even though Safer Human Medicine has said it would take every safety precaution

In 2009, nine monkeys escaped an Oregon Health & Science University facility in Portland. There were no reports of harm to nearby residents, though. 

South of Georgia, Florida has been dealing with invasive macaques since the late 1930s after a tour boat operator released some of monkeys onto a small island in hopes of making it a Tarzan-themed park. However, the monkeys were good swimmers and by the 80s, they spread across what is now the 5,000-acre Silver Springs State Park in central Florida. 

The monkeys are a big draw for tourists because they aren’t afraid of humans. However, the monkeys have been known to become aggressive on some occasions, which is concerning as some in the area have tested positive for herpes B. Because of that, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission prohibited feeding any wild monkeys in 2017.

A photo of a wild rhesus macaque spotted in Orange City, Florida in August 2023 posted to Facebook by the Orange City Police Department.
Orange City Police Department.

There are also concerns this invasive population will continue to spread. As recently as August 2023, wild macaques have been spotted in other parts of Florida, some as far north as Jacksonville.

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[KARAH RUCKER]

THE FUTURE OF A SMALL TOWN LIES IN THE HANDS OF A GEORGIA APPEALS COURT. 

THURSDAY, A PANEL OF THREE JUDGES IS HEARING ARGUMENTS ABOUT WHETHER TO ALLOW PLANS TO BUILD A MONKEY BREEDING FACILITY IN BAINBRIDGE TO MOVE FORWARD. 

BAINBRIDGE IS A TOWN OF ABOUT 14-THOUSAND RESIDENTS IN THE SOUTHWESTERN CORNER OF GEORGIA. 

THE PROPOSED MASSIVE FACILITY WOULD EVENTUALLY HOUSE 30-THOUSAND LONG-TAILED MACAQUES. 

IN DECEMBER, BAINBRIDGE CITY LEADERS GAVE “SAFER HUMAN MEDICINE” THE GO-AHEAD TO BUILD THE FACILITY –  AND GRANTED A BOND RESOLUTION THAT INCLUDED AT 10-YEAR TAX ABATEMENT. 

WORK BEGAN QUICKLY TO CLEAR LAND FOR THE PROJECT – JUST A FEW HUNDRED FEET FROM PEOPLES’ HOMES. 

THE TOWN’S RESIDENTS RAISED CONCERNS –WITH THE BACKING OF BIG NAMES LIKE PETA… AND BY FEBRUARY DECATUR COUNTY COMMISSIONERS HAD UNANIMOUSLY VOTED TO TAKE BACK THEIR SUPPORT FOR THE FACILITY. 

NOW – THE APPEALS COURT WILL DECIDE WHETHER TO INVALIDATE THE BOND PROMISED TO SAFER HUMAN MEDICINE. 

AMONG BAINBRIDGE RESIDENTS’ CONCERNS – WASTEWATER CONTAMINATION SO CLOSE TO HOMES AND THE POSSIBILITY OF A MONKEY ESCAPING. 

MACAQUES ARE KNOWN CARRIERS OF THE HERPES B VIRUS… AND LOCALS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THE POTENTIAL TO SPREAD DISEASE. 

AND WHILE SAFER HUMAN MEDICINE SAYS IT WOULD TAKE EVERY SAFETY PRECAUTION – LOCALS ARE STILL AGAINST THE IDEA. 

THERE IS PRECEDENT FOR THEIR WORRIES – IN 2009… NINE MONKEYS ESCAPED AN OREGON HEALTH AND SCIENCE UNIVERSITY FACILITY IN PORTLAND – THOUGH THERE WERE NO REPORTS OF HARM TO NEARBY RESIDENTS. 

AND JUST SOUTH OF GEORGIA – FLORIDA HAS BEEN DEALING WITH INVASIVE MACAQUES SINCE THE LATE 1930S… AFTER A TOUR BOAT OPERATOR RELEASED SOME OF MONKEYS ONTO A SMALL ISLAND IN HOPES OF MAKING IT A TARZAN-THEMED PARK. 

IT TURNS OUT THOSE MONKEYS ARE GOOD SWIMMERS AND BY THE 80S THE MONKEYS HAD SPREAD ACROSS WHAT IS NOW THE 5-THOUSAND-ACRE SILVER SPRINGS STATE PARK IN CENTRAL FLORIDA. 

THE MONKEYS HAVE SINCE BECOME A BIG DRAW FOR TOURISTS – BECAUSE THE MONKEYS AREN’T AFRAID OF HUMANS, THOUGH THEY HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO BECOME AGGRESSIVE ON SOME OCCASIONS – WHICH IS CONCERNING BECAUSE MONKEYS THERE HAVE TESTED POSITIVE FOR HERPES B.

BECAUSE OF THAT, THE FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COMMISSION PASSED A RULE IN 2017 PROHIBITING FEEDING ANY WILD MONKEYS IN THE STATE. 

THERE ARE ALSO CONCERNS THIS INVASIVE POPULATION WILL CONTINUE TO SPREAD. AS RECENTLY AS AUGUST 2023, WILD MACAQUES HAVE BEEN SPOOTED IN OTHER PARTS OF FLORIDA, SOME AS FAR NORTH AS JACKSONVILLE.