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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Blue Tropix can keep its monkeys

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Three squirrel monkeys that frolic behind the bar at Blue Tropix Restaurant and Nightclub can stay — for now — while federal and city investigators look into their care.

A squirrel monkey eyes the liquor selections at the Blue Tropix nightclub.

Advertiser library photo

Animal rights activists, who have protested outside the club, lost an attempt yesterday to get the club's permits for the monkeys revoked. The state Board of Agriculture voted to dismiss their complaint, ruling that there are no outstanding state violations after the club owner paid fines and other penalties over the handling of the monkeys.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, is reviewing the results of an investigation into whether the club is complying with the federal Animal Welfare Act, which requires that animals on exhibit get adequate food, water, housing and veterinary care.

The Hawaiian Humane Society has also conducted a cruelty investigation and referred its findings to the city prosecutor.

The monkeys, on display in a 30-foot-long, 5-foot-wide glass case with branches inside, have been a source of controversy since Blue Tropix opened in 2001. Animal rights activists believe the monkeys have no place near a bar, but the club owner says the little primates are treated well. A state inspection in September, which included a veterinarian and people from the Humane Society, found that the monkeys were in good health.

"We take good care of them," said Darren Tsuchiya, the club's owner. "They just won't quit, these people."

Squirrel monkeys are usually found in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. The monkeys typically grow to between 9 and 14 inches tall. Activists say the monkeys are canopy animals that may be frightened by the music, noise and stares from people in a nightclub.

"It's absolutely improper," said Cathy Goeggel, president of Animal Rights Hawai'i.

Tsuchiya failed to report the birth of a monkey at Blue Tropix in 2001. The club owner paid a $200 fine and forfeited a $1,000 bond in October after the state discovered he had sold the monkey in 2002 to a person without a permit. That person was cited for possession of a restricted animal without a permit, and the monkey has been moved to the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo on the Big Island.

Tsuchiya also let his USDA exhibitor's license expire in 2002, so the state increased his bond requirement for the remaining three monkeys from $1,000 to $2,000 for each monkey. The club owner is now applying for a new federal license. "We're doing everything we can to comply," he said.

Some members of the Board of Agriculture seemed frustrated yesterday that they had few options to sanction Blue Tropix and indicated they may support a change to their administrative rules to give them more authority over such cases. Each monkey is covered under a separate permit, so the board cannot cancel those permits unless there are further violations of state law.

"He violated a public trust by selling one of the animals," said Carl Carlson Jr., one of the board members.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.