It cost millions of taxpayer dollars, contains artificial trees with especially springy limbs, and was almost certainly the world's first animal enclosure to get a feng shui makeover. But the swanky new monkey house at Los Angeles Zoo has one very important thing missing – monkeys.
In a move that recalls the diplomatic posturing of the Cold War, and may raise serious questions about the future of so-called "Panda politics", China has unceremoniously pulled the plug on a symbolic deal to loan three golden snub-nosed monkeys to America's first city of show-business. It's inevitably being dubbed "monkey business".
Seven years ago the then mayor of Los Angeles, James Hahn, returned from a trade visit to Beijing and triumphantly announced that the rare creatures, famed for their blue faces and blond fur, right, would spend a decade at the zoo for the bargain fee of $100,000 (£60,000) a year.
Buoyed by his optimism, the city council, which owns the tourist attraction near the Hollywood sign, voted to spend $7.4m on a state-of-the-art enclosure designed to look like a rural Chinese village.
Simona Mainini, a feng shui master famed for redesigning celebrity homes, was hired for an additional $4,500 to ensure it promoted "health and happiness".
But with the project now complete, authorities in the People's Republic, who make millions of dollars each year loaning pandas and other animals to US zoos, have suddenly pulled out of the deal, apparently in protest at new US government rules about how the proceeds can be spent.
"They were resentful that federal policy on importing any endangered species required that any money exchanged for that animal had to be used to conserve the habitat and wild population of that species," said David Towne, a Seattle-based consultant who helped broker the original deal.
LA Zoo now intends to fill its enclosure with a mixed collection of Asian animals, including a deer and some pheasants. "We're obviously disappointed, but ... it just didn't happen," said a zoo spokesman. "They said no, and we're going to Plan B."Reuse content