Forgotten Monkeys Die at Primate Research Facility

Three Rhesus macaques died gruesome deaths in late May, at the AAALAC-accredited New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) in Louisiana. The facility admitted the monkeys were left in a chute connecting housing enclosures and—despite a requirement under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA ) that all animals be observed daily—no one noticed the animals' absence for days and perhaps weeks while they slowly died of dehydration and starvation. By the time the 1- and 2-year-old animals were found, their bodies had begun to decompose.

This isn't the first run-in with the law for this research institution, which maintains more than 6,000 primates on its premises—of whom approximately 1,800 are actively used in research each year. In fact, less than two years ago, the facility was cited for multiple violations of the AWA. The USDA veterinary inspector's observations included African green monkeys with tails that had been amputated as a result of trauma (including frostbite) and macaques on active study who were uniformly denied social housing, with no justification provided for doing so. In this earlier instance, the research facility waived its right to a hearing and paid an $18,000 fine to the USDA—but neither admitted nor denied the charges.

The NIRC receives several million dollars in federal funds each year from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH, apparently, needs to reassess how it spends our tax dollars. The NIRC is in need of significant changes in its practices and personnel—changes which should have happened in 2009 and are clearly overdue. The USDA should hold the facility accountable by filing charges against it for its appalling lack of oversight of animals who are completely reliant upon the staff to provide for their basic care and welfare.