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YEMASSEE -- There's a primate boom in Yemassee.'
Monkey-breeding and importing company Alpha Genesis plans to add more monkeys and more homemade toys for those monkeys, and it also will work with the Medical University of South Carolina to create a research lab by summer's end.'
The company will lease space on its Yemassee campus to the university for the construction of a mobile lab with up to 20 employees researching how monkeys think.'
Alpha Genesis also plans to increase its populations in two Yemassee-area facilities by 25 percent to nearly 4,000 animals -- which is about five times the number of Yemassee's human residents. The company has about 3,600 monkeys on Morgan Island in the Coosaw River.'
President and CEO Greg Westergaard said 45 employees looking over the company's collection of capuchins, rhesus macaques, marmosets and other monkeys. '
Last year Alpha Genesis began making and marketing its own line of monkey toys that includes barrels, balls and scoops -- all of which bring in about $2,000 a month from buyers, Westergaard said.'
Because monkeys' genetic codes resemble those of humans, the animals from Alpha Genesis are used for research that includes studies of AIDS, diabetes, kidney disease, hemophilia and alcohol intake.'
MUSC researchers plan to study the brains of rhesus monkeys in the Yemassee lab, monitoring them for studies related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.'
"As they age, (monkeys) begin to develop memory deficits just like you and me," said Peter Kalivas, co-chairman of the university's neurosciences department.'
Westergaard also wants school classes to see the primates in Yemassee, where screeching monkeys bound from posts in cages, fight over toys and ramble along ropes and tubes.'
Tom Hudson, a spokesman for the Beaufort County School District, said as long as teachers and a principal see educational value in the trip, students can go.'
Westergaard said he's hosted one class and hopes to see more. The children would be kept far enough away from the caged animals so that a tuberculosis test is not required for the students.'
"It's a hoot to have the kids out there," he said.