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China withdraws offer of golden monkeys to L.A. Zoo

June 11, 2009 |  8:18 pm

The L.A. Zoo won't get its golden monkeys, after all

Six years and $7.4 million later, it turns out the L.A. Zoo won't be getting a group of endangered golden monkeys after all. 

Back in 2002, then-mayor James Hahn traveled to Asia; one of the aims of his visit to China was to convince officials there to lease giant pandas to the zoo.  But the officials declined, apparently on the grounds that four zoos in the U.S. already had pandas (a much-sought-after zoo attraction).  Instead, they offered three golden monkeys for a 10-year stint in L.A. (at a cost of $100,000 a year, to be paid to the Chinese government).

Confusion now surrounds the breakdown of the deal. Jason Jacobs, an L.A. Zoo spokesman, told the Associated Press that negotiations stalled a few weeks ago, but said he didn't know the reason; Jacobs also noted that the official who signed the original monkey deal no longer works in his former position.  "We did pursue it with the Chinese government, but our understanding is they were no longer responding to our inquiries," Zoo Commission President Shelby Kaplan Sloan told the Daily News.

All this leaves L.A. in a bit of a lurch -- the elaborate enclosure prepared for the golden monkeys was finished last year, and great pains were taken to customize it to their exacting tastes.  The exhibit was intended not only to encourage them to climb and jump from tree to tree (extra-springy artificial trees were added for this purpose), but also to evoke their Chinese heritage (a viewing platform with Chinese-style tiling was installed, for example). 

A feng shui expert was even consulted -- at a cost of $4,500 -- to ensure the enclosure was ideally suited to promote the monkeys' happiness and well-being.  (A waterfall was added at the feng shui expert's behest.)  

"They said no, and we're going to Plan B," Jacobs told our sister blog, L.A. Now.  "Plan B" is to use the exhibit intended for the golden monkeys as a mixed-species habitat for native Asian animals, including langur monkeys.

Golden monkeys, also called golden snub-nosed monkeys and Sichuan golden hair monkeys, are native to forested areas in central China, where habitat destruction is a major threat to their survival.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A young visitor encounters a golden monkey at the Shanghai Zoo.

Credit: Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press

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