On Tuesday evening, they gathered on the sidewalk outside the fairgrounds in Margate chanting and hoisting signs that state “STOP CRUEL DOG + MONKEY RACES” and “ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS TO USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT.” One activist wore a monkey costume to draw attention to the cause.
“It’s absolute cruelty,” Susan Hargreaves, a longtime animal rights activist who is organizing the protests, tells New Times. She is the founder of Animal Hero Kids and Be An Animal Hero. “The saddest thing that you can see is when [the monkeys] have this resignation on their faces, where they have given up. It’s a blank look.”
In theory, the idea of a little monkey wearing miniature jockey silks perched atop a dog sounds kind of adorable.
But Hargreaves says the monkeys — two capuchins named Gilligan and Burt — are strapped into saddles and “violently jerked” around the track. Sometimes, she says, the dogs accidentally run the monkeys into walls, fences, or poles. In some instances, she has heard of the monkeys having their teeth removed to prevent them from biting the dogs.
“This still has the capacity to shock me even after 41 years,” she sighs.
The Broward County Fair, located on the grounds of the former Margate Swap Shop, is in town until December 6. Hargreaves says the fair has included the Banana Derby since at least 2014, and that the show takes place at least three times a day.
The Broward County Fair didn’t respond to New Times‘ requests for comment via email.
The City of Margate oversees the fair, and activists are urging city officials to ban the show.
In an emailed statement, the city says it does not have the authority to cancel the Banana Derby outright.
“Community Redevelopment Agency officials approved the use of the CRA property for the fair and have spoken to the operators of the Broward County Fair on behalf of the animals’ welfare,” the statement reads. “They have assured us that the animals are not being abused and informed us that the act will continue.”
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Banana Derby exhibitor Philip Hendricks has been “cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failure to provide animals with adequate space, environmental enrichment, and clean and wholesome food.”
PETA also claims shows like the Banana Derby cause the capuchin monkeys to “develop neurotic and self-destructive forms of behavior, such as pacing, rocking, swaying, cage-biting, and self-mutilation.”
Hendricks said he was inspired to host exhibition races when Gilligan, his pet monkey, started riding his dog around his family’s living room. He told WSVN-TV that the primates are “like family to him.”
Hargreaves challenges that assertion.
“I wouldn’t take my grandmother, strap her onto the back of a dog, and make her perform,” she says. “That’s not what I’d do to my family. That’s a very dysfunctional family.”
Kari Bagnall, founder of Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainesville, has offered to rescue the monkeys and provide a natural habitat for them. Back in 2015, she helped push officials in Alachua County to ban all “nonhuman primate acts.”
“In sanctuary, they would live as much of a natural life as possible, free from trauma, confinement, and unnatural acts,” Hargreaves says. “They’ll be able to climb trees perhaps for the first time.”