By: Thomas J. Rowell
Hendry County, located in Southwest Florida, has made news headlines in the last few weeks highlighting the construction of primate facilities in the county. Although Primate Products, Inc. (PPI) has been established in the area for over 15 years these new efforts have gained more than their share of attention from animal activists, both local and from outside the State of Florida (see links at end of article). Much of the attention is directed to the number of primate facilities that have taken up residence in the county. News stories have reported that “the county seat of LaBelle only has around 4,600 residents, meaning that the number of monkeys in the area could soon overtake the number of residents” and some local residents have expressed concern in the County’s methods of approving these new projects.
PPI has operated Panther Tracks Learning Center, located approximately 22 miles southeast of Immokalee, FL and approximately 120 miles west-northwest of Miami, FL (at the northern edge of the Big Cypress Reserve) for over 15 years. The reasons PPI, and we assume other enterprises involved in breeding and housing nonhuman primates in this area, selected Hendry County as the site for our facility is based on three critical criteria:
- First and foremost, the weather. The tropical savanna climate of Southwest Florida below the frost line is the only place in the continental US with the natural environment that is most similar to where our purpose bred monkeys originate.
- Secondly, the agriculture mindset of the labor base. No one has to explain to someone with a farm background that animals require care and support every day and are thus a 24/7/365 commitment.
- Thirdly, the knowledge base of environmental and regulatory agencies in farm communities is second to none. Their understanding of animal needs and farm construction requirements to meet the needs of animals and health issues for both humans and animals and thus their contribution to the location, design and construction of housing and support areas was vital and welcomed.
In early 2000 PPI was solicited and encouraged to open the operation in Hendry County by the Hendry County Economic Development Council. During the review process, in front of the County Board of Supervisors, there were concerns expressed by some animal activist groups from outside of the county. At open meetings many members of the Hendry County Cattleman’s Association and local farmers and business owners appeared in support the project. Ultimately it was approved, and for the last 15 years we have worked closely with the county and the local community of which we have been welcomed into and have their full support. We promote the interest of our county and local region through both our employment practices and by insuring we buy products and services from our local businesses whenever possible.
Throughout the entire process the various public agencies (Agricultural Extension Office, Hendry County Planning and Zoning Agency, etc. along with State regulatory agencies including the South Florida Water Management District and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission) contributed their knowledge to help us meet the rigid requirements required by the State of Florida.
There is simply no better place to find the knowledge of support agencies, mindset of workers, and community understanding of farming and livestock production and maintenance than in Hendry County Florida. Hendry County and the community have been very supportive of PPI’s mission for over 15 years. We draw our employment and bias our business to support the community, and we’ve always been very open with our practices and very appreciative of community support.