Seeing the inside of a primate research facility for the first time was a shocking experience for me, not only as a psychologically healthy person but also as a scientist who has been trained to rigorously control extraneous variables which might influence research data.
There were hundreds of animals kept in barren, tiny single-cages with nothing to do but stare at bleak walls and wait for their term to be subjected to life-threatening procedures. The cages were all stacked on top of each other in double-tiers to accommodate maximum numbers of them in windowless rooms. The following poemwritten by an animal technician at a prestigious primate research laboratory - puts exactly into words how I felt.
Is it really far fetched to compare this situation with that of human prisoners kept in concentration camps?
It so happened that I soon got the opportunity to work in such a laboratory as clinical veterinarian and ethologist to improve the housing and handling conditions for the animals.
My priorities were a) allowing the animals to actively express their need for social contact and social interaction with at least one compatible conspecific, b) training the animals to cooperate rather than resist during procedures, c) encouraging animal care staff to see the individual animal as a sensitive being rather than as a serial-numbered research tool, d) making the vertical dimension of the cage accessible to the animals, and e) allowing the animals to spend some time of the day foraging.
I am grateful that the laboratory allowed me to partially break the inertia of tradition and introduce housing and handling techniques, which not only contradicted but also disproved conventional wisdom.
This collection of photos speaks of my concerns
in regard to the traditional way of housing and handling of macaques
and of my successes in developing refinement alternatives. It
is my wish to inspire animal care personnel, scientists, veterinarians,
and colony managers to allow themselves to feel compassion for
the animals in their charge and to have the courage to translate
these feelings into action, for the well-being of the animals
and for their own happiness.
Mt. Shasta, September 7, 2000