Karen Robotka admits she and other residents along County M have concerns about a new neighbor looking to move in.
But they have attended a meeting to help quell worries about too much noise and lowering property values for their country life near Westfield.
The new neighbor hasn’t moved in yet, but the land is purchased. And when a structure gets built, monkeys will be part of the landscape.
A Madison non-profit group called Primates Incorporated wants to build Wisconsin’s first monkey sanctuary and locate it in the town of Springfield in Marquette County.
Last week, Springfield neighbors held a meeting to get more information from Amy Kerwin, who created Primates Incorporated.
“We learned some things. None of the research monkeys (in Wisconsin) will go to this sanctuary. All are coming from out of state,” Robotka said, adding that about 40 community members attended the meeting.
There are still concerns from residents, including those at a United Methodist camp nearby, she said.
“I don’t know if anybody is confident these monkeys will not get out,” she said.
Kerwin is confident her plan to house retired research monkeys is sound. And now her goal is to educate neighbors about the possibility of a different kind of neighbor.
When Kerwin worked at a laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison a decade ago, she grew close to the research monkeys that were used.
But she realized there were no plans to retire them. So she decided not to become a veterinarian, and instead went to business school with a plan.
Kerwin wants to emulate the seven monkey sanctuaries across the United States that have been successful, like ones in Oregon and Texas. The property would house healthy monkeys that have been retired from research, and ones who were rescued from pet ownership.
After a decade of planning, Primates Incorporated purchased 17 acres in the town of Springfield last year with the idea of building a monkey sanctuary there through future fundraising.
“No matter how much I make the case for retiring primates or show how safe and secure we’re going to be, we’re not going to make everyone happy,” Kerwin said.
But she is trying.
“She’s good. She really covered all the bases,” Robotka said, who has been finding out as much as she can about her possible new neighbors that will be about two miles away.
There is a need for this structure, Kerwin says, which would be the only one in a cold climate in the U.S. Kerwin believes the animals deserve a better end of life situation than to be euthanized.
“These monkeys have been tested on for the benefit of humankind,” she said.
To the rescue
The plan for Primates Incorporated is to rescue about five to 10 monkeys a year, with the goal of 100 at the facility within two decades.
When Kerwin started this project she educated herself by going to four of the national sanctuary sites to see how things were done, talking with staff about issues like safety and building.
The monkeys that she is proposing to house would weigh up to 30 pounds like the rhesus monkeys she worked with in Madison.
Before coming to Marquette County, Kerwin looked at sites in Muscoda and Boscobel, but said she couldn’t make her case to locals.
“We didn’t get run out of town, we decided not to build there,” she said. “We want a welcoming community.”
By last fall, Primates Incorporated had raised $87,000 and purchased land in the town of Springfield for $59,900.
The idea was to be within an hour and 15 minutes of Madison where volunteers will come to help run the facility. And they wanted a rural location.
But the project will take about $600,000 to complete, she said — which will include an indoor structure for the monkeys in the center of the 17 acres that will be out of sight for those passing by. There will be an outdoor structure at the facility that will be enclosed on all sides, including the ceiling. The monkeys will only be able to go outside from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., otherwise they will be indoors.
Kerwin said a few researchers each year contact her about retiring their monkeys and she connects them with reputable ones in the States.
“Once we are set up we can create a waiting list for the monkeys. Foundations can see we rescued our first monkey, and see (the process) actually happening,” she said.
Money then will be easier to raise to sustain the facility, she said, which will have a house on the property. There will be a worker and an intern on site at all times.
Kerwin also wants the facility to serve as an education tool for veterinary students at the UW who could study rehabilitation at the facility.
On the line
Only a small percentage of the thousands of monkeys used for research in the U.S. are put in sanctuaries. Kerwin said UW and other research facilities in Madison do not have a sanctuary plan.
While working at UW, Kerwin saw the need for research. And she also got to know animal activists who fall on the other side of the issue.
She said her views overlap with both sides.
The USDA minimum housing for a research monkey is a 3-foot by 3-foot cage, she said.
And building a sanctuary will not only allow for more space, but help researchers who get attached to the monkeys.
“They are so close to humans,” Kerwin said, adding that a sanctuary could help the morale of researchers.
“So they don’t’ have to deal with the sadness of putting down an animal you grow close to.”
The monkeys she is looking at housing on the property would have to be healthy, and ones given a terminal disease at a research facility are usually euthanized. The monkeys at the sanctuary would be ones who were part of toxicology studies, where the drug leaves the system. And there would be no breeding of the monkeys.
“An absolute clean bill of health before they even leave the institution,” she said.
Bill Lundy knows that there’s always red tape with any project, including a lake association he is a part of.
And that’s why he’s confused why a project like this does not have more state regulation and permits to acquire — including environmental impact studies.
Lundy’s concern, he says, is the health risks to humans and local wildlife population.
“They guarantee we’ll have safety, we’ll have securities. That they can’t possibly get away,” said the Marquette County resident. “Bull feathers. They can get away. These monkeys are a relatively intelligent breed. Tell me they can’t escape.”
Lundy said the local population of birds and insects that could interact with the monkeys — like tics — could pose a problem.
One of the reasons Lundy said Springfield was picked was because they are not zoned. And the business does not have to get approval from a town board.
Terry Janke, chairman of the town of Springfield, said he did not want to comment on the subject.
There is some state regulatory procedures the sanctuary will have to get through.
The Department of Natural Resources will be doing a study on butterflies to make sure the species there will not be threatened.
But outside of that, there is little state regulation for a facility like this. And Robotka said little anyone living there can do to stop the project.
Regulation falls to the USDA, where the federal entity has a license for exhibitors. There is no category for a sanctuary.
“They won’t inspect until we have a physical structure,” Kerwin said.
Primates Inc. also will follow guidelines of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the North American Primate Sanctuary Association.
Kerwin’s next steps include reaching out to home builders to try to get a house donated for the staff who will be on property. And by this fall, she wants to have a nature trail with educational plaques along the way people can walk on.
“People walking the natural trails might not even see any monkeys,” she said. “If people don’t want to be involved they really will not know we are there.”
The facility is not a zoo for people to come and see the primates.
“We will come up with a very safe and secure facility,” she said. “That will be a benefit to the monkeys and the community.”