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L.A. Ponies Up Funds for Golden Monkeys

City Council OKs deal to pay $100,000 a year to Chinese wildlife group.

March 20, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles moved one step closer to getting three rare golden monkeys from China after the City Council approved an agreement Wednesday between local officials and the Chinese wildlife organization responsible for the endangered species.

Under the agreement, the city will pay the China Wildlife Conservation Assn. $100,000 a year for 10 years to support programs to preserve the habitat of the monkeys. In exchange, Los Angeles will get three of the acrobatic monkeys with rusty gold fur and distinctive blue faces.

When the animals arrive this winter or next spring, Los Angeles will be the only city in North America exhibiting golden monkeys, which number about 15,000 in the mountains of their native China.

Zoo officials are hoping that during the 10 years the monkeys are on loan to Los Angeles, the male will mate with the two females and produce offspring.

Chinese officials promised the city the primates during Mayor James K. Hahn's November trip to Asia. Los Angeles officials had hoped China would loan them a pair of the country's prized pandas.

But local officials profess to be just as excited to showcase the lesser-known golden monkeys, which are very elusive in the wild.

"These are very cute animals," City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said. "They're absolutely adorable."

Added Interim Zoo Director Ed Maruska: "I think it's fantastic. From an activity standpoint and color and beauty, they're comparable to the giant panda."

The animals have blue faces fringed with a copper-colored mane, and a long cape of golden fur. Their hands and feet are large and furry.

"They kind of look like a big stuffed toy," Maruska said.

The zoo director plans to go to China next month to sign the final agreement to bring the golden monkeys here. Before they can come, however, the city needs to find sponsors to help cover the annual fee to the Chinese conservation organization and raise another $2.5 million to build an exhibit and breeding facilities for them in Griffith Park. Some of the costs will also be funded out of the zoo budget.

Officials hope to house the golden monkeys in a large exhibit surrounded by pine trees, where they can frolic.

"They're very active," Maruska said. "They bounce from tree to tree to tree."

The zoo director said he remains hopeful that Los Angeles will eventually get a pair of pandas.

"When you're working on a project like giant pandas, you've got to build relationships," he said. "It takes a while, and I think we made the first step."

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