Primate Rescue Center

Enhance aid for primates

Erika Fleury February 10, 2016

The following Opinion piece was written by Barbara J. King, a professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary.

According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Monkey began Monday, ushering in a period symbolically linked to cleverness, curiosity and innovation. The coming 12 months also represent a period of urgency for coming to the aid of more than 100,000 monkeys held in U.S. biomedical laboratories.

Far less light shines on the plight of these monkeys than on their larger, better-known ape cousins, the chimpanzees who are on the way out of federal labs to sanctuaries (though this effort is still incomplete and requires sustained federal funding). According to the USDA's animal care database, 105,665 nonhuman primates were confined in U.S. laboratories in fiscal year 2014. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that more than 98 percent are monkeys.

Andi is a rhesus macaque rescued by the PRC. His torso tattoo indicates time spent in laboratory research.

The real picture of what individual monkeys are likely to endure in the labs is best found in the USDA's pain-level classification. Level C refers to fleeting pain or none at all from procedures such as injection or tattooing, with no use of analgesics. Analgesics or tranquilizers are administered for Level D pain, which results from needle biopsies, surgeries or similar procedures. In level E, animals feel pain stemming from things like application of noxious stimuli that they cannot escape, infectious disease research or use of immobilizing drugs, but their pain is, as the USDA puts it, "not relieved with anesthetics, analgesics and/or tranquilizer drugs or other methods."

More than half of the primates in labs are involved in level C experiments (29 percent), D (24 percent) or E (1.3 percent). The database doesn't specify the exact nature of each experiment, but it is nonetheless clear that too many of these highly intelligent and social animals suffer, just as their chimpanzee cousins suffered for too long.

Level C experiments, it should be underscored, are anything but trivial or harmless. At an NIH laboratory in Poolesville, Md., with experiments classified at this level, infant rhesus macaques were taken from their mothers soon after birth and exposed to stressful stimuli to test their responses. This causes clear psychological suffering to primates with an intense mother-infant bond. In the wake of persistent scientific and ethical criticism, NIH announced that this research will be phased out over the next three years. This is a significant step, and a hopeful one.

Monkeys in laboratories outside the federal system fare no better, though again, hope is on the horizon. Last May the New England Primate Research Center, associated with Harvard Medical School and one of 8 national primate centers, shut its doors after what The Boston Globe called "a startling level of disregard for protocols that govern animal research" that caused monkeys to die. Last fall, The Oklahoman newspaper noted that monkeys at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences "died in droves in 2014, many of them violently." The outcry that ensued in Oklahoma led to a pledge from OU to close its baboon breeding and research program over the next few years.

It's time to build on this trend toward closure of primate labs. By asking our congressional representatives to support retirement of laboratory primates to sanctuaries; sharing information about these issues on social media; and urging biomedical companies and government agencies to adopt biomedical research methods that are both effective and compassionate, together we can make the Year of the Monkey a turning point for our primate kin.

- Daily Press

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