Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Sue

How does a primate end up at the center of a courtroom battle? When animal dealer Matthew Block is involved, it's not so difficult

She is an ordinary three-pound monkey, a brown Java macaque (also known as a crab-eating macaque), languishing in a cage at a veterinary clinic just over the Dade County line in Pembroke Park. She arrived in mid-July after Pedro Diaz, who had stopped with his wife and daughter in Homestead to change a flat tire, spotted the monkey in a tree and coaxed her down with crackers. Diaz says he decided to call authorities to have the monkey taken away because he didn't have the required permit to keep her.

So here she is at the Pembroke Park Animal Clinic, which the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission uses almost exclusively as a holding facility for primates confiscated in South Florida. Like thousands of other macaques sold each year in the U.S. for use in medical research, this monkey carries identification: a microchip embedded in her upper body and a hole in her right ear from a now-missing metal tag. But she has acquired an added distinction: During the past three weeks, she has become the object of an odd legal skirmish between the clinic owner and controversial Miami animal trader Matthew Block.

The primate dealer, who gained notoriety in the early Nineties for his confessed role in an unrelated orangutan-smuggling plot dubbed the Bangkok Six case, claims the macaque at the clinic is his. He says he's certain she is one of 33 females stolen a year ago from his South Dade breeding facility, Worldwide Primates. Soon after a professional acquaintance informed him of the monkey's presence at the Pembroke Park clinic, Block and his insurance broker went to Broward Circuit Court and obtained a temporary injunction against the clinic's owner, veterinarian Terri Parrott. The court order prohibits Parrott from moving, selling, or "performing any surgical procedure" on the monkey, and allows Block to confirm the animal's identity through an electronic scan of the microchip, which he says is broken and will have to be surgically removed before it can be read. (The microchip was extracted from the monkey this past Friday and shipped to the manufacturer to see if it can be deciphered.)

But this fight is about more than a single $1500 monkey. Block has discovered that in the past four months, two other macaques he had reported as escaped or stolen also have been taken in by Parrott and later disposed of without anyone informing him. His insurance broker, Mitchell Kalmanson, who says he has paid Block thousands of dollars for lost or stolen monkeys, is furious. "There may have been another five or ten or whatever for all we know, who have been stolen and gone to her facility that she has sold and we never had access to," complains Kalmanson, president of the Lester Kalmanson Agency in Maitland, near Orlando.

Last week Block himself began inspecting files on primate confiscations at the regional Game and Fresh Water Fish office in West Palm Beach in an effort to determine if other seizures of his animals have occurred without his knowledge. As for getting back this particular monkey, Block says, she now legally belongs to his insurance company, and returning her to his breeding colony after a year would be very difficult anyway. "I don't want the monkey," he asserts. "Our principal goal in this matter is to work out a policy [with game and fish officials] so this won't happen again."

Maj. Kyle Hill of the state commission's law enforcement division in Tallahassee acknowledges that the agency's policy on animal confiscations is being reviewed in the wake of Block's vociferous complaints, which have been echoed by other South Florida primate specialists. Hill says "minor changes" may be forthcoming. In addition, the commission's chief of internal affairs says he recently launched an investigation into the current dispute over the macaque in Parrott's clinic and of the two earlier confiscations Block says took place without his knowledge.

But Dr. Parrott and Lt. Patrick Reynolds, the sole Game and Fresh Water Fish inspector for Dade and Monroe counties, say Block just wants special treatment. They point out he has an unusually high number of thefts and escapes from his facility (for which he is rarely cited, Reynolds adds), but just because he loses a lot of macaques doesn't mean every one running free or that shows up illegally in a pet store or a private home is his. Parrott, in fact, isn't convinced the macaque now sitting in her office is Block's. "We see a lot of monkeys that come in from other places that have been microchipped," she says. "Once [state game inspectors] release them to me, I assume they've done their investigation to try to find where they came from. And believe me, the ones who come in are not all Mr. Block's." In any case, Parrott says, "He has to show it's his. The burden of proof is on him."

Reynolds, the commission inspector who brought the macaque to Parrott's clinic in the first place, isn't willing to concede the monkey to Block, either. "His opinion is, 'Any animal that's loose is mine,'" Reynolds says with some irritation. "Any Java we come across he wants us to run it by him. We don't run a service just for him."

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