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

But Block and other South Florida primate handlers and veterinarians find it incredible in this case that Reynolds -- who in the past has searched for and returned dozens of lost monkeys to Block -- didn't immediately suspect it could be a Worldwide Primates escapee. "Anybody in this area who knows anything about primates would know if they had a macaque, they should call Matt Block," remarks Robert Cooper, a primate veterinarian and adviser to the DuMond Conservancy for Primates and Tropical Forests at Monkey Jungle in South Dade. (Block claims that Worldwide Primates is one of the nation's largest breeders of macaques, though he will not say how many of the monkeys he houses.)

The controversy began this past April when Parrott euthanized a macaque brought to her clinic after it was cornered in a tree less than a mile from Worldwide Primates. When Parrott ran blood tests on the monkey (her routine procedure), she found it tested positive for the herpes B virus. While 70 to 90 percent of all adult macaques carry herpes B, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus can be transmitted to humans only when it is in an active state in the monkey, and then only by contact with blood or other bodily fluids. But once contracted by humans, the virus is almost always fatal; those who survive suffer permanent neurological impairment. Parrott says she felt her only alternative was to euthanize the infected monkey. "I don't have an isolation facility," the veterinarian explains. "And here's this animal right in my office, right next to my staff. I don't need that risk."

Macaques, according to primate experts, are strong, usually ill-tempered, and surprisingly adept with their teeth. Parrott checked with HRS in Tallahassee and was informed of a state law allowing diseased animals to be put to death for the public safety. "So I put it down," she says. "No one told me I had to tell Matt Block. As far as I knew this monkey did not have an owner." Then Parrott had the carcass incinerated. (Volunteers who keep seized animals for Game and Fresh Water Fish aren't required to obtain commission approval before carrying out medical procedures, according to Maj. Kyle Hill; they're generally allowed to operate according to their professional judgment. If an animal is not returned to an owner, it becomes the property of the commission, which then normally signs it over to the volunteer in lieu of monetary compensation.)

Block says he learned of the death after an unidentified caller left a message on his answering machine. When he contacted inspector Reynolds, he was given the tattoo number of a monkey Reynolds said was at Parrott's clinic. Block identified the number as that of a macaque he had reported as having escaped this past April 3. Reynolds then told him the animal had been killed several days earlier. Block complained to Parrott and fired off letters to Game and Fresh Water Fish officials calling for a review of commission policy on seizures.

The incident quickly caught the attention of South Florida's small community of primate breeders and specialists. Many of them have a low opinion of Block because of his involvement in the Bangkok Six affair (he has been sentenced to thirteen months in federal prison but is currently free on bond while awaiting the outcome of his appeals) and because of past citations from state and federal inspectors for wretched conditions within his holding compounds. But this time Block got support from his peers.

Dr. Joseph Wagner, director of the University of Miami's division of veterinary resources and medical director at the Mannheimer Foundation, a local biomedical research facility that also breeds primates, joined Block's calls for clarification of the state's policy on confiscations. "If such an incident had happened with a University owned animal, I would be most unhappy," Wagner wrote on June 9 to Allan Egbert, the commission's executive director. "Since the animal killed was reported to FGFWFC as being escaped and displayed a tattoo ID on the chest, it would seem reasonable that the animal be returned to the owner or at least they be contacted."

Later in June, Block got a call from a South Florida primate collector who had just bought a macaque from Parrott. Reynolds had confiscated the monkey from an elderly woman in Key West, along with other wildlife she possessed. (Eventually she was charged with three violations of wildlife laws.) Reynolds says he found no identifying signs on the animal, so he took it to Parrott's clinic, his usual practice when he doesn't know the legitimate owner. After a month, Parrott asked Reynolds for permission to place the monkey with a private owner; Reynolds says he gave her the go-ahead after being told -- incorrectly, it turns out -- the case against the Key West woman had been resolved.

Parrott then called Christine Scott, the collector who owns several macaques, two of which she had bought earlier from the veterinarian. Scott's husband drove up from their home on Grassy Key, paid Parrott $650, and took the monkey home. The $650 price tag, Parrott explains, was no more than the amount she had spent to keep the animal at her clinic. She never "sells" the confiscated animals, she says; they are "placed."

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