PETA Targets Monkey Facilities Over Zika Concerns

Apr 26, 2016

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA recently launched a campaign warning Hendry County residents that local primate breeding facilities could be a hotbed for the Zika virus.

The virus causes birth defects in the babies of pregnant women.

PETA published press releases, took out newspaper ads and printed door hangers as part of its campaign.

It singled out one monkey facility in Southwest Florida called Primate Products. The group sparked a federal investigation there last summer when it secretly recorded videos at the facility.  

The investigation required Primate Products fix certain conditions and practices at the facility.

In its new campaign, PETA wrote the facility has pools of standing water and the monkeys live near swamps, which it argued are both good mosquito habitats.

There have been no Zika infections reported in Hendry County.

 The Florida Department of Health wrote in an email that the likely carrier of the virus is a mosquito called aedes aegypti, which lives mostly in urban areas.

The agency also wrote the bug only feeds on people.

PETA’s Senior Laboratory Oversight Specialist Alka Chandna said infected mosquitos and people can both travel. She said an infected person could go to a new population, where they might get bitten by another set of mosquitos.

Chandna said there are three monkey facilities in Hendry County with another one on the way. She said if any of the monkeys in their open cages were exposed to the virus, it would create a reservoir for the disease.

“It seems prudent that those monkey facilities should be shut down and more monkeys should not be brought in,” she said. “It just seems like a basic prudent measure that should be taken in the interest of public health.”

Primate Products President Thomas Rowell said this campaign has more to do with the group’s opposition to primate testing in research.

“This is a typical tactic that you see with these animal activist groups where they provide misinformation to the community with the hopes of instilling fear for the purpose of moving forward at a political agenda.”

Still, Rowell said Primate Products has consulted with a professional mosquito control company.

  He said they have recommendations in place to protect the animals if any Zika cases pop up locally.

“They’ve actually made some recommendations in regard to barrier sprays around the facility on the vegetation, which will help kill mosquitos once they land on the vegetation. They’ve also recommended ultra-low volume spraying of the air to help reduce the mosquito populations that are flying,” he said.

Dr. Scott Weaver studies the Zika virus. He’s the director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch

He said aedes aegypti can bite other animals, but almost exclusively feeds on people.

Weaver said based on the facility’s remote location, surrounding canal system and open cages he does not expect to find a lot of aedis aegypti there.

“Unless there’s some kind of artificial water containers in the area, a used tire dump, some kind of dump full of bottles or other containers that can kind of accumulate rainwater where aedes aegypti like to lay their eggs,” he said.

Still, Weaver said there has been little effort and a lack of hard data on what kinds of mosquitos could carry Zika in the Americas.

He said that includes a mosquito species in Florida that can carry the Chikungunya virus and is found in rural areas.

Weaver said the possibility of a Zika outbreak at Primate Products depends on what kind of mosquitos the animals would be exposed to and what mosquitos might transmit Zika in the future.