Protests don't get the monkeys off dogs' backs at county fair

  • Monkeys mounted on the backs of dogs compete in the "Banana Derby" during last year's Lake County Fair in Grayslake.

      Monkeys mounted on the backs of dogs compete in the "Banana Derby" during last year's Lake County Fair in Grayslake. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2014

  • Gilligan, a capuchin monkey, claps as he is introduced during the Banana Derby at the Lake County Fair in Grayslake.

      Gilligan, a capuchin monkey, claps as he is introduced during the Banana Derby at the Lake County Fair in Grayslake. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer, 2011

 
 
Updated 7/11/2015 3:56 PM

The Banana Derby, which features capuchin monkeys riding dogs as they race around a track, will go on as scheduled at the Lake County Fair later this month.

Despite urgings from some Lake County Board members, the Chicago Zoological Society and others, fair officials say there is no compelling reason to cancel a popular feature the fair has had for five years, and they take proper animal care and handling is a responsibility very seriously.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In May, the chief executives of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo, urged Lake County Fair President Jon Brodzik Jr. to cancel the Banana Derby. The Humane Society also protested, asking that the monkeys not be subjected to stressful conditions and exploitation "for a few cheap laughs." The letters were sent at the urging of Lake County Board member Sandra Hart of Lake Bluff. It was followed by one circulated by Hart and signed by 16 of 21 county board members asking the Banana Derby be canceled.

"It is critical that people understand the value of protecting and caring for our wildlife and this type of attraction undermines that effort," the letter reads. "The Lake County Fair should not promote activities that exploit animals for our amusement and profit."

In his response to Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, Brodzik argues that Banana Derby has been featured for five years without incident. Performing and exhibition animals are an integral part of the fair experience, Brodzik wrote.

"The humane care and handling of performing and exhibition animals is a responsibility we take seriously, which is why animal performance vendors at the Lake County Fair are vetted very carefully," he wrote.

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Brodzik said Gilligan T. Monkey LLC is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and complies with standards for the care and treatment of animals. He said performers are rescued animals who travel about six months of the year, then live with the promoter's family as pets.

"While we recognize and appreciate there is a wide range of opinions on the role of working animals in entertainment, the board of directors of the Lake County Fair Association sees no compelling reason to cancel the Banana Derby attraction at this time," Brodzik wrote.

On Friday, Matthew Robertson, general manager of the fair association, said all aspects of the annual fair are evaluated.

"I would be delighted to sit down with the Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo after the fair this year when we're planning for 2016," Robertson said. "A partnership with either Lincoln Park Zoo or Brookfield Zoo would be very beneficial for both parties," he added, as the fair would gain educational programming it hasn't had before and the zoos could reach a new audience in Lake County.

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