On Saturday, July 1, a YouTube user named Jesse posted some mysterious footage of a monkey farm in Mesa, Arizona.
“It has been reported this facility is closed and has been abandoned but as you can clearly see it’s still open and housing monkeys as of July 1, 2017,” the user wrote. Armed with that video and a few others, local media jumped on the story, because who doesn’t like an abandoned monkey farm mystery.
“Primates found living in Mesa facility - but who is caring for them?” ABC15 wondered on July 3, and went on quote one of the drone pilots, in an utterance that can only be described as very reflective of 2017. “Everything I read on the internet, that it was abandoned, and monkeys left there eating each other, that’s what intrigued me to go look and see,” the anonymous drone user said.
Another said, “It just makes you wonder, why they’re out there. Why so many? Why has nobody heard of it? Why are they hidden and tucked away?”
ABC15 aspired to due diligence. The station’s reporters reached out to local officials and quoted an anonymous contractor who said that the University of Washington owns the site, and that the monkeys are, in fact, being cared for. But no official comment on the matter came, perhaps because of the long holiday weekend. The mystery, such as it was, lingered.
Finally, on July 6, the Arizona Republic went deeper and confirmed that the site—formerly a chimpanzee sanctuary—is indeed operated by the University of Washington, as a breeding facility for pigtail macaques. There are 368 macaques there, cared for by a staff of around 20 vets and other personnel. They are being bred for research conducted in Seattle by the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A university spokeswoman also told the Republic that the facility is regularly inspected by the USDA, and is air-conditioned and provides the monkeys free rein. All of this suggests it’s not the dystopian monkey death camp one might imagine after doing some freelance internet research—not that the facility’s real purpose was much of a secret online either.
The mystery was fun while it lasted.