Officials from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) were on site today conducting an inspection and interviewing employees at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, Gainesville, FL, sources report.
The nonprofit primate sanctuary has been in hot water the past few months as numerous former employees and volunteers spoke out about the harsh conditions the monkeys and staff face under Director Kari Bagnall.
Former employees said Bagnall intimidates and verbally harasses the staff who are severely overworked. Some staff lives on site and in winter the on site employees are required to wake up every four hours and conduct unpaid night inspections of the heat lamps on the monkey enclosures to ensure the animals don’t freeze to death.
The work conditions have led to staff shortages with six employees currently caring for more than 250 animals. Bagnall’s low starting wages and strict requirements that employees be non-smoking vegans has also caused a shortage of job applicants.
Former employees said the staff shortages mean animal’s medical conditions may go overlooked and some cages have not been cleaned in more than a year.
In January, the USDA cited Jungle Friends with a non-critical violation for cleaning, sanitization, housekeeping and pest control. In the report, the USDA inspector described primate enclosures that contained waste, urine, discarded food, mounds of peanut shells and piles of feces that were growing mold.
Jungle Friends was accredited by several sanctuary accrediting organizations. However, the deteriorating conditions at the non profit facility have caused the sanctuary to lose their accreditation.
In June, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries suspended Jungle Friends for ongoing areas of noncompliance. The facility subsequently lost their membership to the National Association of Primate Sanctuaries. They were also removed from their roles in the American Sanctuary Association.
April Truitt is the founder of Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky. She traveled to Jungle Friends in early July and spent nine days trying to help get the sanctuary in order. Truitt submitted a detailed plan to the nonprofit’s board of directors to get the sanctuary back on track. Among the plan requirements was for Bagnall to take a three month leave of absence as sanctuary director and to relinquish her position as president of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
The board of directors, made up largely of Bagnall’s friends and relatives, voted to reject the proposal. Truitt said the facility remains woefully understaffed and in a state of collapse. She has organized a fundraiser to provide support to the six remaining staff members who are currently working in “unimaginable conditions,” she said.
Last week, prospective employee Corey Kreidler left a Jungle Friends working interview early due to the alarming conditions.
Kreidler said in one section of the sanctuary, a single employee is caring for 130 monkeys.
“There are piles of rotten produce and monkey chow throughout the sanctuary which attracts pests such as rats,” Kreidler said. “Because of this, there is rat poison dispersed throughout the facility, often right in reach of the monkeys.”
Kreidler said he saw an injured monkey with a bite wound at the facility and when he brought it to Bagnall’s attention she brushed the wound off as a scrape and said she sprayed it with antiseptic spray. Kreidler said the wound appeared to be getting worse and the monkey was constantly picking at it.
When Kreidler politely informed Bagnall he was no longer interested in working at Jungle Friends, he said Bagnall verbally attacked him.
“She attacked my lifestyle choice to eat meat by claiming I support animal abuse,” he said. “She suggested I was a weak person for ‘not being able to handle the hard work at her facility.’”
Kreidler said Bagnall was quick to blame the terrible conditions at the facility on her former employees, “despite her role as executive director.”
Several sources have confirmed USDA and FWS officials showed up at Jungle Friends today to conduct an inspection and interview the employees. It will likely be at least a month before the results of the inspection are made public.
Kreidler said for the safety and well-being of the animals, Jungle Friends management needs to change so “the facility can become the amazing place I know it can be.”