June 13, 2009

Snub Leaves LA Zoo On The Hunt For New Monkeys

The city of Los Angeles recently dished out $7.4 million for the construction a China-themed, feng shui-approved monkey cage for the city's zoo.  The extravagant expenditure was made in anticipation of the arrival of a trio of rare golden snub-nosed monkey that China had promised to lend.

Recently however, the Chinese government has changed their mind and now says that the exotic primates will not be leaving their homeland, leaving officials at the L.A. Zoo scrambling to find a suitable replacement to fill the veritable monkey mansion.

Jason Jacobs, a spokesman for the zoo, said that he was unsure as to exactly why talks with Chinese officials simply broke down a few weeks ago.

He mentioned that the Chinese official who had originally signed the agreement to lend out the monkeys has since left his position, further complicating matters.

The Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles has so far not taken phone calls or issued a comment on the matter. The Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association, which would have been responsible for coordinating the logistics of the monkey loan, also had no comment.

While visiting China in 2002, Chinese officials had offered former L.A. Mayor James Hahn a 10-year-lease on the monkeys.

Hahn's original purpose had been to attempt to procure a panda for the zoo, but Chinese officials declined the request, saying that four zoos in the U.S. already have pandas, according to David Towne, president of the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, which helped negotiate the failed monkey loan.

"They use the pandas as somewhat of a diplomatic and political tool as a reward for supporting Chinese policies," explained Towne.

City officials agreed to pay the Chinese government $100,000 a year for the rare primates that were offered in lieu of the pandas. In 2006, city leaders voted to build the lavish monkey facility designed to look like a rural Chinese village.

A feng shui expert was paid $4,500 to make a few final touches, including a water fountain and other features intended to promote the monkeys' health and happiness.

Zoo officials say they are currently talking with colleagues at other U.S. zoos in hopes of procuring native Chinese monkey species that will fit in with the surroundings.

"Of course we're disappointed we didn't get the golden monkeys, but the end result is we have a gorgeous new habitat, which is fully capable of housing any other variety of Asian primate," Jacobs said.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district is home to the zoo, chose to put a positive spin on the somewhat embarrassing ordeal: "Within 60 days, some lucky monkey will have a home there."


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