Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Vilas Zoo protester 3 4 98

Protesters and police await the arrival of a truck to ship 101 monkeys from the Henry Vilas Zoo in March 1998.

Hard to believe it's been 20 years since the Vilas Park Zoo closed and then dismantled the round "monkey house" that was home to as many as 150 rhesus and stump-tailed macaques whose antics delighted thousands of young zoo visitors for years.

The monkeys actually belonged to the UW-Madison's Primate Center, which had been accused for years of abusing the animals for its research projects, including taking baby monkeys away from their mothers to determine the psychiatric effects on both the babies and the parents.

The Primate Center made arrangements with the zoo to house the monkeys in the round "house" where they could romp around cliffs and ledges that had been built into the house and swing on tree-like apparatuses. The animals would often climb on the house's fencing and make faces at the kids who were watching their playfulness.

The UW relied on federal research grants, which were unceremoniously cut off in 1998. The school decided it needed to get rid of the monkeys, but animal rights' activists became alarmed when it was learned the animals would be sold to other research facilities.

That generated a nearly year-long protest from the local Alliance for Animals while at the same time an investigation by The Capital Times revealed that the Primate Center had been using some of the Vilas Zoo monkeys for research experiments, a violation of its agreement with the zoo. The Primate Center contended there was never such an agreement, but documents showed otherwise.

To make a long story short, the paper's investigation, the alliance's protests and an outcry from the public did result in saving a small group of monkeys. The stump-tails were sent to a wildlife orphanage in San Antonio, Texas, but the vast majority of them, the rhesus, did wind up at a primate research center at Tulane University in Louisiana, showing just how tough it is to fight city hall — or in this case, the University of Wisconsin.

Now, some 20 years later, the Alliance for Animals is planning a public event to remember and talk about the Vilas Zoo monkeys. The alliance has continued at the forefront of calling attention to the UW's use of animals for research, a practice that the organization believes is immoral and nothing short of cruelty to animals.

Rick Bogle, the tireless animal advocate who regularly challenges what he believes to be unnecessary research that tortures animals, said the event will be held at the Goodman Community Center on Saturday evening, March 3, from 5-8 p.m. Bogle will talk about his book on UW primate research at 6.

Appreciate these insights? Get Cap Times opinion sent daily to your inbox

In a note to me he said that a couple of monkeys born at the zoo all those years ago are still at the Primate Center. He added that he once counted over 200 printed articles and letters about the saga, many of which were from The Capital Times.

I recall those days well, including fielding some angry calls and letters from the UW's administration. But I also recall the kids who sent letters and donated their pennies on behalf of the monkeys and the thousands of adults who rallied behind saving them from yet more invasive research.

That outpouring from a sincerely concerned community is well worth celebrating 20 years later.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society Press website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.