LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Zoo may have the nation's only monkey lair approved by a feng shui expert. There's only one problem: No monkeys.
The city spent $7.4 million building the China-themed primate enclosure — complete with canary island palm trees, artificial trees with extra springy limbs, and a viewing structure with Chinese-style tilework — after China promised to lend the zoo a trio of rare golden snub-nosed monkeys.
But now the Chinese government has taken the monkeys off the table, leaving zoo officials searching for suitable stand-in simians to take the place of the golden monkeys, known for their blue-faces and blond-hair.
"Within 60 days, some lucky monkey will have a home there," City Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the zoo, said Thursday.
Zoo spokesman Jason Jacobs said negotiations with Chinese officials broke down several weeks ago, but he did not know why.
The Chinese official that had signed the agreement granting Los Angeles the monkeys has since left his position, he said.
An e-mail seeking comment from the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles was returned as undeliverable. The Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association, which was to oversee the animal loan, did not answer a call seeking comment before business hours in Beijing.
Chinese officials had offered a 10-year-lease for the monkeys to former Mayor James Hahn during a visit to China in 2002.
Hahn had originally sought to lease pandas for the zoo, but Chinese officials refused, saying four zoos in the U.S. already have pandas, said David Towne, president of the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, which helped broker the failed monkey loan.
"They use the pandas as somewhat of a diplomatic and political tool as a reward for supporting Chinese policies," he said.
The city agreed to pay the Chinese government $100,000 a year for the monkeys that were offered instead of pandas. Officials voted in 2006 to build the enclosure designed to look like a rural Chinese village. The enclosure was finished in 2008.
A feng shui expert hired for $4,500 tweaked the final design with a water fountain and other features meant to promote the monkeys' health and happiness.
Zoo officials are now consulting with their colleagues at other zoos to obtain native Chinese monkey species that will fit in with the surroundings.
"Of course we're disappointed we didn't get the golden monkeys, but the end result is we have a gorgeous new habitat, which is fully capable of housing any other variety of Asian primate," Jacobs said.