GAINESVILLE, Fla. (FOX 13) - Kari Bagnall's Gainesville home has grown into a monkey paradise. The property has primates of all sorts, including marmosets, tamarins and capuchins.
"It's kind of like the rainforest out here, that they would live in naturally," she explained.
Kari's a mom of sorts to hundreds of rescued primates. Over half the monkeys at her Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary were brought in from research labs. They were involved in everything from nicotine and cocaine studies to research on vocal cords and cognitive functions.
She says some arrived in rough shape. "A lot of time when they are in a lab or by themselves, they go mad, they go crazy and they start pulling out their hair.”
Now she gives them the retirement she believes they deserve, a life with all the creature comforts.
"We want to give them a monkey life and introduce them to other monkeys and do monkey things,” she said.
Twenty-six young squirrel monkeys are her latest arrivals. Kari calls them the FDA Boys. They were part of a Food and Drug Administration nicotine study. It was abruptly cancelled after four monkeys died.
"I was happy that whole study was stopped," she offered.
They're adjusting to a far different life at the sanctuary, one where they're being groomed to roam on their own. "They are still in their lab cages now because we are building for them. We roll them outside, so that they can get used to outside."
Kari had an interior design career, but her goals shifted in 1992 after she adopted her first orphaned monkey, then another, then dozens more.
Now, her passion has grown to 20 employees and dozens of volunteers.
Some biomedical researchers argue ethically controlled studies on primates are still necessary. Still, primate labs at Harvard and the National Institutes of Health closed, either because of public uproar or alternatives to animal studies.
"Ultimately, I would like to see them out of research. I don't know that I'll see it in my lifetime, but that would be the best,” Kari continued.
Yet, the number of monkeys used in medical research jumped to an all-time high in 2018. "Most are still being euthanized, but the trend is moving towards retirement, so we're really excited about that.”
LINK: If you'd like to donate or sponsor a monkey, you can go to www.junglefriends.org