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Future of monkey park in doubt

The Director of a monkey park says he will move the site away if plans to build giant wind turbines nearby go ahead

THE Director of a monkey park which attracts 200,000 visitors a year says he will move the site away if plans to build giant wind turbines nearby go ahead.

Described by monkey photographer and conservationist Stéphanie Meng as “unique in France” and “the first place where you should go to meet primates”, La Vallée des Singes in the Vienne is home to over 400 animals of 30 species which roam free in its greenery.
Its troupe of bonobos, one of humans’ closest relatives, is France’s only one and the world’s biggest. Two babies were born
in 2012 and a female is expecting.

Now director Emmanuel Le Grelle says he will seek offers from other areas, after the prefect gave the go-ahead to a plan to run eight 150m (including sails) turbines to the west and south-west.

Overall approval for the scheme, sought by a Alstom subsidiary, has been given despite an unfavourable opinion from a public enquiry which said it would “spoil” the very rural area and reduce its attractiveness to tourists.

Harm to visitor numbers and jobs at the Vallée was cited and the report asked: “Can we risk the area’s tourism collapsing, when it is doing well but is fragile?”.
Final planning approval for construction was expected on going to press.

Mr Le Grelle said it is unheard of for a prefect to approve a scheme after an enquiry has found against it. A petition has 6,000 signatures ( Monkey-park-petition).

His threat to leave is “serious”, he said, but will have to wait for the outcome of a legal battle he plans in the administrative courts. In the meantime, he hopes, the plan will be on hold for up to seven years.
He is also taking action against three councillors for one commune concerned, which he says backed the scheme despite them having an interest because they own land on which turbines will be built (which typically involves large rents).

“I’m concerned about the aesthetics – we’re in a flat, open area and 150m turbines 1.6km away would be like them being in the park. We wouldn’t have a natural environment.
City folk come to get away from it all. The other problem is infrasound. It’s known that monkeys are more sensitive to it than us and it can detect it 5km away.
“I don’t want to risk it affecting behaviour and communication, which could disturb social groups and breeding.”

A suggestion by the prefect that hedges could be planted was “completely ridiculous”, he said, adding: “I think she agreed because the turbine lobby is powerful and Alstom is multinational”.

A prefecture spokeswoman said the decision was based on a “fair consideration of all relevant factors”. It had consulted numerous official bodies, which had all given the go-ahead, apart from a local heritage service which had a general rule of avoiding building turbines.

The Depart mental Commission of Nature Country side and Sites (made up of councillors and state officials, plus nature and business groups) had voted in favour by a majority.

Impact studies had not shown significant affects on primates, she said.

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