Primate Rescue Center

Expert: Monkey Used in Research Before It Was Captured in Bath County

Erika Fleury September 10, 2015

A monkey that was captured Wednesday in Bath County probably came from a research center, a primate expert said Thursday.

The 10-year-old male rhesus macaque had a tattoo of a code on its chest, said April Truitt, founder and executive director of the Primate Rescue Center in Jessamine County, where the monkey was taken. Those kinds of tattoos are used only by biomedical research centers, she said.

The monkey was spotted near Owingsville in Bath County, and it dodged animal control officers, sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officers much of Wednesday before being tranquilized and caught.

The rescue center is taking extra precautions with the macaque (pronounced ma-cack) because research subjects can have medical conditions or illnesses that can spread to humans, Truitt said. Even if the monkey has no research-generated illnesses, macaques often have a virus called herpes virus B that can be transmitted to humans, Truitt said. The illness is rarely contracted by people, but the virus can lead to severe brain damage or death if untreated in humans, according to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bites, scratches or contact with monkey body fluids can spread diseases from the animal to people, Truitt said.

At 10 pounds, the macaque weighed only about 40 percent of what rhesus macaques should, Truitt said. It should weigh about 25 pounds.

The monkey is quarantined at the center and being fed whatever he wants, Truitt said. "He's been acting really hungry," she said. "He loves peanut butter sandwiches."

Rhesus macaques are durable and adaptable, Truitt said. That's why thousands of them are imported every year from China for biomedical research. Most research centers euthanize animals used for testing when the research is completed, Truitt said.

It was unclear how the macaque ended up in Bath County because there are no research facilities in the area from which he could have escaped. His low body weight led Truitt to think the monkey was being kept as a pet. If he'd been in the wild, he would've been able to forage for food, she said.

The monkey is much more docile than the average male rhesus macaque of his age, Truitt said. His demeanor might explain how he ended up in the private sector. "Even for all he's been through, he's very laid-back," Truitt said. "It's unusual for this species at this age. They're usually a force to be reckoned with."

It's illegal for monkeys to be brought into Kentucky as pets, but people are willing to pay a lot of money for primates, Truitt said. Because there are few places for displaced primates to go in this area, the monkey probably will stay at the rescue center after quarantine, Truitt said.

The center, which is a nonprofit, is pressed for space, so keeping another primate might be difficult, Truitt said. The hope is to integrate him eventually with the center's current residents. "We'll figure something out," Truitt said. "We will try to find him a buddy or a group that he can fit into."

Rhesus macaques can live 20 years in the wild, Truitt said. In captivity, when they're well taken care of, they can live 40 years.

- Lexington Herald-Leader

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