County Fairground’s Animal Acts Restriction Postponed, Includes Ban On Non-human Primates

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Alachua County commissioners are postponing the creation of stricter animal act regulations for the county’s fairgrounds.

Races between dog-riding monkeys dressed as jockeys at the 2015 Alachua County Fair drew a whirlwind of controversy and public outcry last fall – with many people demanding county officials step in. Complaints about that animal act, called the “Banana Derby,” spurred the commission to seek a solution.

On Tuesday, commissioners heard a proposal to amend the Alachua County Fairgrounds’ license agreement, as it relates to the regulation and restriction of animal acts permitted on the fairgrounds.

Proposed changes to the Alachua County Fairgrounds rental application included a ban on non-human primates at the fairgrounds, as well as an agreement to provide a list of all animals to both the county’s Animal Services and Parks and Recreation Services no later than four weeks prior to an event.

Vernest LeGree of the Alachua County Public Works Parks Department spoke to Alachua County Commissioners Tuesday, recommending amendments be made to the County's fairgrounds rental application.
Vernest LeGree of the Alachua County Public Works Parks Department spoke to Alachua County Commissioners Tuesday, recommending amendments be made to the County’s fairgrounds rental application. (Alexandra Go/ WUFT News)

Commissioners viewed the propsals as a step in the right direction but most said its scope was too narrow. In a vote of 4-1, the County Comission postponed deciding on the proposal until it could be expanded to also include future County Commission approval of every animal act to be presented at the fairgrounds.

According to Ken Cornell, Vice Chair of the Alachua County Commission, the proposal, as-is, doesn’t address the concerns future animal acts may bring.

“(If) there is an act coming that is clearly in this board’s opinion exploiting animals, how do we stop the act?”  Cornell said.

He said that although non-human primates would be protected under the regulations changes as they are now, he said he is concerned about how to protect other animals that could be exploited.

The Alachua County Fairgrounds is home to a number of annual fairs — the Alachua County Fair, the Hoggetowne Medeival Faire, the Youth Fair and Livestock Show, and so on — many of which include animals and various animal acts. To be part of a fair, animals and animal acts must comply with requirements set out by the USDA and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, said Vernest LeGree of the Alachua County Public Works Parks Department.

However, just as in the case of the Banana Derby’s dog-riding monkey jockeys, satisfying requirements is not always enough.

As someone who cares for more than 200 rescued monkeys, Kari Bagnall, founder and director of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, said she was horrified to see how the Banana Derby was using the monkeys.

Banana Derby could not be reached for comment.

Commissioners have asked the county manager’s office to amend the fairgrounds rental agreement to require screening and the ability to reject animal acts determined to be “inhumane” or “cruel” by county officials. Such a revision would allow for more public input on what animal acts may be presented at the fairgrounds, said Gina Peebles, the assistant county manager for public and administrative services in Alachua County.

“Just because it’s within the law or legal doesn’t make it right,” Bagnall said.

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