The problem with primate research

It has been a week since ABC's Nightline ran footage obtained by the Humane Society of primates being abused at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. Even though the ethics of animal research has been big news on the blogs in the past week, with a poorly-argued article in last week's Huffington Post (Janet, DrugMonkey, Orac) and the recent attack on a UCLA scientist who uses primates in his studies (Janet, Evil Monkey, Nick), I am puzzled as to why there has been virtually no discussion of the footage taken at the New Iberia labs. For those of who you missed it, here is the Nightline report again;

Now before I proceed further I want to make a few things clear. First, I do recognize the value of biomedical research on animals but for reasons I will explain I oppose the use of apes in such research and am a signer of the Great Ape Project's "Declaration on Great Apes". Second, the acts of terrorists like those who firebombed the car of the UCLA researcher are damnable and I in no way support the use of violence to intimidate or stop scientists from carrying out their research. Third, I am not an expert on the rules & regulations surrounding animal welfare in the lab and invite the comments of anyone who can suggest ways to reduce the abuse of animals in research.

So, what about the tape? It certainly needs to be viewed with a skeptical eye as it is presented in several-second snippets. In the first clip, for instance, we see a sedated macaque slide off a table and strike the floor. This is clearly unacceptable but it appears that the person closest to the monkey was the one doing the filming. Why didn't they rush to stop the animal from hitting the ground? I understand the point of the undercover video was to show abuses of the animals at New Iberia but in this case the fall of the monkey could have been prevented if the person had acted rather than stood by.

Other aspects of the tape are not as ambiguous. In one scene a macaque is seen strapped to a chair and is then struck in the teeth with what appears to be a metal pipe. This was obviously painful as it began screaming immediately after it had been struck. The explanation of this event from staff associated with the research center, however, is anything but convincing;

"The intent there was to use a reflex where he would open his mouth and they would place the bar in his mouth so that they could incubate him" explains Veterinarian Danna Hasselschwart.

Another scene depicts the transfer of sedated chimpanzees from the lab to vans without any visible restraints. This is a clear safety violation that I have not yet seen addressed by anyone connected with New Iberia. Such events, however, pale in comparison to the psychological stress primates face daily in research centers. These are social, intelligent animals who are locked up in cells resembling iron-and-concrete zoo enclosures from the 19th century. If you saw primates kept this way in a zoo you would be appalled, yet it appears to be standard in labs. Even with time in outside enclosures much of the life of a research primate is spent behind bars.

These cramped quarters take heavy tolls on the test animals. (Is there such a thing as a mentally healthy lab primate?) In these conditions primates fail to form healthy bonds with other individuals, mutilate themselves, and show obvious signs of psychological distress. I know I have used this clip many times but the chimpanzee Billy Jo, featured in Chimpanzees: An Unnatural History exemplifies the physical and psychological scars life in a lab can leave;

It speaks to the trauma Billy Jo felt that he was able to bite off several of his own digits even after his teeth had been removed, and it is heartbreaking to realize that his is not an uncommon story. I have no doubt that there are many researchers who care about the monkeys & apes in their care and do act responsibly within existing guidelines, yet this does not mean that lab primates are free from stress. Primates, and apes especially, are extremely intelligent social creatures whose basic needs cannot be adequately met in a research laboratory. If it is questionable whether apes can be kept in a responsible manner in a well-funded zoo it is horrifying that in a research lab like New Iberia chimpanzees are being shot with dart guns if they do not comply to be injected by needles. I do not object to biomedical research on apes because they are our closest relatives or share some percentage of our genetic code but because the detrimental effects of life in the lab are so painfully obvious.

This video from New Iberia, released by the Humane Society, documents how upset and terrified chimpanzees become at the sight of needles. Even worse are the dart guns used when chimpanzees do not comply to coming up to the fencing for an injection, and I can only wonder why the one staff member brandishes the weapon in front of so many animals when it disturbs them so much. It should also be recognized that this emotional trauma is not only incurred by the individual injected but also chimpanzees in neighboring cages that can hear the fearful screams of their companions;

The fact that chimpanzees are kept in sterile cages with hard floors also means that, when they are sedated, they crash onto the hard floor.

Injuries sustained from these falls are the results of inaction, but the New Iberia researchers have inflicted more direct pain on the monkeys kept there. I fail to see how the practice of yanking monkeys from their cages, choking them and subjecting the other monkeys in the room to the terrified screams of the one being manhandled, is considered an acceptable laboratory practice;

Jane Goodall, famous for her studies of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania, recently viewed the footage obtained by the Humane Society. She has posted a response to it from which I have excerpted a few paragraphs;

It is clear that chimpanzees in the wild (and in many captive groups) lead rich and complex social lives, have a high degree of intelligence and experience emotions that are sometimes much like ours. It is against this background of knowledge that I viewed a series of video clips of chimpanzees in a medical research laboratory. It is my understanding that this is a large facility in Louisiana.


There was, so far as I could see, only one shelf on which a chimpanzee could sit--possibly this was metal also. I could not see. The chimpanzees exhibited a variety of stereotypic stress behaviors, such as rocking, swaying, moving from side to side, and repetitiously banging on the mesh of the cage, the walls or the ceiling. I watched as white-coated staff, with gloves and masks, showed adult chimpanzees syringes and demanded that they approach for an injection. When this did not happen, a capture gun was used. The sight of the gun caused an outburst of loud screaming and frenzied movement around the cage. When the gun was used, and contact made, the screaming reached frenzy point.

Many clips showed chimpanzees being gradually confined in a smaller and smaller space, as a squeeze partition was moved, forcing the subjects to approach the white-coated figure with a syringe. This procedure caused extreme panic. I have visited a number of medical research laboratories since 1986: SEMA (now Bioqual) in Rockville, Maryland, and South West in Texas, USA. And LEMSIP US, Immuno in Austria, and the E.U. lab in the Netherlands (all of which are now closed).


Finally, the attitude of the white-coated men was so very far from caring. I did not see any chimpanzee being given a reward-not even a kind or encouraging word. One man put an orange outside the cage where, of course, it could not be reached by the chimpanzee who, in a depressed rather than angry state, rocked from side to side. The loud voices when a chimpanzee was waking from anesthesia were clearly very distressing to the ape, who screamed each time he heard the voice. No attempt to comfort him was made. Instead, in this instance as in all others I saw in the clips, I noticed a lack of concern for the psychological welfare of the chimpanzees. Indeed, it did not appear, from what I saw on the video clips, that there was any attempt to establish rapport with the chimpanzees, except when one man was moving his fingers against the wire looking in at the chimpanzee silently.

Thus, from a psychological as well as a social perspective, the conditions of the chimpanzees in the video clips were not appropriate. Congress passed a bill that called on those responsible for the care of captive chimpanzees to address their psychological welfare. There was no evidence that I saw that this requirement is addressed in this lab.

The above is my considered, professional opinion.

Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE
Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

A new investigation into what goes on at New Iberia has been ordered by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. We will have to wait and see what happens next, yet even if the investigation states that there were no specific acts of wrongdoing (which I will find hard to believe given what I have seen from the videotapes) I will still question whether apes and other primates can be ethically used in biomedical research. I would hope that others would do the same but as I have already commented I was a bit shocked by the silence surrounding the film from New Iberia. If the use of research animals is as tightly regulated and supervised as has been claimed I would have expected those in favor of responsible research to respond to the footage obtained by the HSUS.

Instead it seems easier to focus on groups like PeTA, terrorists, and other "wackaloons" and dismiss the Humane Society video as just another attempt to shut down animal research entirely. In the comments of a Chronicle of Higher Education article on the story, for instance, many people expressed appreciation that such abuses were being brought to light. In response to a similar article published at The Scientist, however, many commentators excoriated the magazine for throwing a bone to animal rights activists and equated those concerned with animal welfare as nuts belonging to PeTA. Have we reach a point where documented abuse is overlooked or goes without comment for fear of giving ammunition to intellectual opponents?

I do not think that we can afford to keep overlooking this issue, especially since the track record of large primate research labs has not been good. Let's take a look at what happened to chimpanzees held at what some considered to be one of the "better" research facilities, NYU's Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP, where Billy Jo was held). Although the institution had an open-door policy that allowed critical input and provided more enrichment for their primates than was given at other institutions it is hard to argue that the monkeys and apes were treated humanely. The chimpanzees were still kept in small cages that hung from the ceiling and they did not see the outdoors.

For a variety of reasons (including the prospective price of updating the cages to meet USDA regulations) LEMSIP was closed in 1997. What would happen to all the primates? To his credit LEMSIP's former veterinarian and acting director Jim Mahoney placed about 100 monkeys and 100 chimpanzees in sanctuaries, but a number of chimpanzees would end up going to the Coulston Foundation in New Mexico. What is particularly shocking about this was that Coulston already had a bad track record. There were serious questions about the treatment of primates at Coulston and several chimpanzees had already died there, including three that were baked alive inside a holding shed when the heating system malfunctioned and the temperature rose to over 140 degrees.

Despite the serious questions about Coulston the LEMSIP chimps were sent there to join a number of chimps formerly used in research by the Air Force. They lived in rooms not unlike prison cells and the violations and negligence continued. In 1998 the USDA formally charged Coulston specifically for the deaths of chimpanzees Jello and Echo. Both died because of negligence, although a representative from the NIH's Office of Protection from Research Risks stated that the facility had corrected all the safety & health problems. This was contradicted the same year when a USDA inspection revealed that the deficiencies were not corrected and two more chimpanzees, Terrence and Muffin, died due to negligence.

In 1999 the NIH would reiterate their faith that Coulston was approaching compliance with animal welfare regulations despite the new violations documented in the USDA investigation. Privately the NIH slapped Coulston on the wrist and required that they hire more qualified veterinarians, yet they continued funding. This money was sorely needed as an NIH visit to the facility revealed that not only was the facility improperly staffed but it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Even lifetime endowments given for the care of particular chimpanzees had been prematurely spent. While the USDA continued to cite violations and issue formal charges against Coulston the NIH took little action, even after the tragic death of an individual named Donna. Donna had been carrying around a dead fetus inside her for over two months and was being internally destroyed by it. The Coulston staff did not get permission to euthanize Donna and end her suffering, however, and she died shortly after coming out of surgery to remove the dead fetus and liter of pus inside her body.

With these horrid conditions and a surplus of chimpanzees Coulston was ordered to stop all chimpanzee breeding. It did not, yet another in a long list of noncompliance issues. By 2000 the issue arrived before Congress at which time NIH's illegal funding of Coulston was also cited. The facility had not been accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) since 1998 and should not have been receiving federal funds. Even so, the NIH continued to publicly state that things were not as bad as they seemed at Coulston.

This statement was contradicted by the fact that the NIH claimed the chimps and opened up for birds from other research facilities. They only got two, one of which was from Coulston, and the chimps stay put. Retiring the chimpanzees to a sanctuary was apparently not an option as the NIH made it clear that they wanted the animals to remain available to researchers for future disease studies even though many had already been infected with diseases that would make them ineligible for studying other diseases.

Things were breaking down and in 2001 the NIH finally made Coulston ineligible for further federal funding. Where the chimpanzees would end up, though, was anyone's guess. The NIH's plan was to have them go to the lab supply company Charles Rivers Laboratories in Massachusetts. This would be a sort of holding tank for the chimpanzees where they would not be tested but would be available to be shipped elsewhere in the country for experiments at the request of researchers. Legal issues would keep the chimpanzees tied up for nearly a year but in 2002 the Center for Captive Chimpanzee Care (now Save the Chimps) came to the rescue. They were able to purchase and permanently retire all the chimps with the objective of moving them, bit by bit, to a specially constructed sanctuary in Florida. After so many years of abuse they were finally allowed to know a life without cages, needles, or experimental surgery. (Basic timeline of events obtained from a more detailed listing here. [pdf])

This was one of the worst cases of repeated abuse of research animals ever recorded, and it makes the assertion that we need not worry about what goes on in animal research labs due to tight federal regulations cold comfort. In the case of Coulston it took at least half a decade's worth of well-documented abuses before the NIH took significant action, and they have likewise been evasive about the abuses now documented at New Iberia. I know there are plenty of rules written in books but what happens when those rules are not properly enforced or require revision? How can we ensure that there is proper oversight to prevent these kinds of abuses?

Sadly this drama seems to play out over and over again. Despite all we have come to know about non-human primates in terms of behavior and cognition they are still kept in unsuitable conditions that resemble zoo enclosures from the 19th century. It may not even be possible to humanely keep non-human primates for biomedical research purposes. Some labs may be better than others, and I do not doubt that many researchers do care about the welfare of the primates they study, but it is apparent that there are still severe problems with the way monkeys and apes are kept in research conditions.

Given the atrocious history of many primate research centers I am both puzzled and frustrated by the fact that a blind eye is turned toward the continual mistreatment of these animals. Keeping nonhuman primates in cold, hard, confined spaces where they regularly develop psychological disorders and tear at their own bodies in desperation is not acceptable and is a clear violation of animal welfare. We value primates as research subjects because they are so similar to us, yet we often fail to recognize that their behavioral, social, and cognitive needs are similar to ours. I truly hope that researchers and animal welfare activists can work together to ensure the utmost care of primates, but the first step in doing so is recognizing the presence of a problem.

Post-script: As I wrote this post I wondered what chimpanzees used for medical research would say if we could talk to them. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound. Chimpanzees have shown themselves to be very proficient with American Sign Language and in fact some ASL-trained chimpanzees have been used in medical experiments.

Once such individual was a male named Booee who was trained in ASL by Roger Fouts 25 years before being subjected to experiments at LEMSIP. Though not as proficient as he once was, Booee still retained some of his ability with sign language when Fouts visited him in 1995. Fouts' brief meeting with Booee, which was captured on film and aired in 1995, went something like this (excerpted from Fouts' book Next of Kin;

A big smile lit up Booee's face. He remembered me, after all.


BOOEE, BOOEE, ME BOOEE, he signed back, overjoyed that someone actually acknowledged him. He kept drawing his finger down the center of his head in his name sign, the one I had given him in 1970, three years after NIH researchers had split his infant brain in two.

YES, YOU BOOEE, YOU BOOEE, I signed back.

GIVE ME FOOD, ROGER, he pleaded.

Booee not only remembered that I always carried raisins for him, but he used the nickname he had invented for me twenty-five years earlier. Instead of tugging the ear lobe for ROGER, he flicked his finger off the ear. This was like calling someone "Rodg" instead of "Roger." Seeing him sign my old nickname floored me. I had forgotten it, but Booee hadn't. He remembered the good old days better than I did.

Fouts and Booee conversed for a few minutes, but when Fouts left the chimpanzee withdrew emotionally and returned to sulk in the corner. He would not remain in his cage for long, though. Booee, although infected with hepatitis c, was eventually released into a sanctuary.


More like this

Interesting. You note right at the top that the video is based on minimal actual evidence, a few seconds here and there spliced together for maximum effect. You almost (in noting that the camera person was closest to the animal that fell off a table) get to the previously established fact that ALF/PETA covert investigator types are fully willing to falsify their supposed 'evidence' to make their lying points.

You then go on to cite what are similar drop-in-the-bucket anecdotes when it comes to all laboratory use of nonhuman primates, and conflate what are very distinct species (with dramatically different use numbers and situations), to take your sustained tone that all primate research must be suspect.

This post can only be viewed as concern trolling.

If not, do the work. Educate yourself on the real practices and the real numbers. Otherwise you are engaging in the logical fallacy of assuming that because there is some evidence of distress or distressful practices, thus it all must be rotten.

By Cleveland (not verified) on 11 Mar 2009 #permalink

I have to agree with Cleveland. This isn't the first time that undercover ALF/PETA/Other animal rights activists have posed as technicians for more than a year gathering and manipulating videotape into extremely brief snapshots that give the appearance of abuse. In the past, investigations spurred by such videotapes has lead to the exoneration of the facilities involved.

For instance, Matt Rossell, who has close associations with animal rights extremists who've done jail time for their "activism" took similar videotapes at the Boys Town National Research Hospital and Oregan National Primate Research Center, both in Oregon. Michael Conn writes in his book Animal Research War (page 23):

Rossell played the role of "offended innocent." He was so convincing that long after he left our center some co-workers had trouble believing that he had been a plant. Rossell maintained an email correspondence with some of our employees in which he stuck to his story of "just being a technician" who was shocked and offended by what he had seen.

Rossell, we discovered, had misrepresented himself on his employment application, omitting mention of previous work experiences and of a college education that would have flagged him as over-qualified for an animal technician's position. We were convinced that he had come to the Primate Center, not to work, nor even to observe objectively, but to create "evidence" and make his case.

Rossell was a capable photographer and master film editor. He portrayed baby monkeys that were in fact playing with their food as living in filth. He got his photographic shots early in the morning before cleanup. He photographed frightened animals, huddling, in what looked like crowded enclosures. Some of the "evidence" that he brought forward was so carefully contrived that it took us several days to figure out how he did it.

[...]Note that [Researcher Edward] Walsh, whose work at the Boys Town facility focused on congenital deafness, was cleared of all of the claims that Rossell had made. Investigators from the NIH and the USDA noted that his research animals were anesthetized during the procedures, felt no pain, and recovered without any permenant impairment from their surgery.

As he had done in the case of Boys Town, Rossell made a number of outrageous allegations about our facility. None of these were supported by extensive federal investigations that followed. Five investigators, all veterinarians, worked daily for two weeks but found no merit in Rossell's claims and found no signs of animal cruelty or federal noncompliance. Animal abuse would have been impossible to hid in this investigation or in the ten unannounced inspections that extended our continuous USDA certification to over forty years. The Primate Center and Walsh's research program were cleared of any wrongdoing.

My strong impression is that this instance at the New Iberia Research Center is more of the same strategy. Federal heath and animal welfare officials are investigating, according to last week's CNN article on the case however, and if any wrongdoing is confirmed, those responsible will be held accountable. But I doubt that this will be the case - NIRC will probably be exonerated, and the extremists will still have had their publicity stunt. Which means that, yes, I think that this post is a bit of concern trolling.

Darn, the four paragraphs in the middle should've been in the blockquotes, and the last paragraph of my comment is all me.

Although I fully support an investigation into the Iberia facility we should be aware of tactics that activists use.…
^^There is a video which shows exactly the type of tactics used (in this case by Rossell against ONPRC). If you posed as a nurse for 9 months in just about any hospital you could find things to film - a dirty corner just prior to cleaning, a doctor shouting at some kid for running about, a parent smacking a child while a doctor stood doing nothing...etc.
My point is that such events, while unacceptable, are the exception not the rule of welfare in animal research facilities.

One has to look at logical fallacies both ways: The fact that some PETA types contrive evidence and fabricate scenarios to advance their cause does not mean that all evidence of primate abuse is fabricated.

Putting aside active abuse against primates, such as darting, striking, neglect, etc., one can easily conclude that simply keeping primates in cages is a form of abuse, since they are intelligent, social creatures that develop well-recognized neurotic and even psychotic disturbances when they are sequestered in such a way. It then becomes an ethical issue, one that can only be resolved by society coming to a decision about whether abuse of primates is acceptable in the cause of curing human disease.

There's a continuum of concern about how animals are treated in experimentation. Maybe nobody cares if fruit flies are maimed and killed in research. There might be more concern about maiming and killing mice and rats, but they are prey animals whose existence on earth is presumptive of their being maimed and killed for food every day in numbers by the millions. Dogs and cats are pets with millennia-long-established relationships with humans, so their treatment might be held by the public with higher regard than might be the treatment of rodents. Monkeys and especially apes, fewer in number than mice and rats, intelligent, sentient, and genetically close to humans (and because of this sentience and genetic relationship to humans, considered invaluable subjects for experimentation), are also the animals whose mistreatment can elicit the most cause for concern.

I'm not making the final judgment here. It might well be acceptable to abuse and destroy monkeys and apes (physically and psychologically) in order to find cures for human ailments. Probably they ought to be treated with care up until the point when they are drugged, vivisected or otherwise harmed during experimentation, but it should be noted that their mere captivity is a form of mistreatment. This mistreatment can either be understood and accepted for its research potential or it can be declared unacceptable from an ethical perspective. Or, it can be declared unacceptable from an ethical perspective and yet still be permitted because of its value. Only society as a whole can make these determinations.

"In the first clip, for instance, we see a sedated macaque slide off a table and strike the floor. This is clearly unacceptable but it appears that the person closest to the monkey was the one doing the filming. Why didn't they rush to stop the animal from hitting the ground? I understand the point of the undercover video was to show abuses of the animals at New Iberia but in this case the fall of the monkey could have been prevented if the person had acted rather than stood by."

Actually since the person with the camera was operating under the cover of being a staff member they were the one responsible for that incident. Just because you have a hidden camera doesn't mean that you are exempt from duty of care.

it certainly wouldn't be the first time anti-vivissectionist infiltrators have created, through action or inaction, the very situations they then use in their propaganda.

Perhaps New Iberia should file a complaint against HSUS!

The fact that some PETA types contrive evidence and fabricate scenarios to advance their cause does not mean that all evidence of primate abuse is fabricated.

Maybe not, but the typical year long mole-in-the-facility stint produces a few seconds (sometimes minutes) of "evidence" which is far from definitive and often could easily have been faked. You really have to wonder wherein lies the beef.

one can easily conclude that simply keeping primates in cages is a form of abuse,

Sure. Stick to this definitional argument and we have fewer problems. You are welcome to any founded or unfounded belief you like. Start manufacturing evidence to "prove" your point....big problem.

they are intelligent, social creatures that develop well-recognized neurotic and even psychotic disturbances when they are sequestered in such a way.

Your statement and Brian's post imply that this is an inevitable result and occurs in all caged primates. Is this actually true? I dunno. I scanned the PubMed-available literature on self-injurious behavior in laboratory primates (wait...scientists, gasp, studying and trying to improve their treatment of animals? can it be so?) and this would seem to be a false implication. What evidence do you have for your assertion?

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 12 Mar 2009 #permalink

You are not implying that monkeys and apes are not intelligent, social creatures, are you? Do you have evidence that they are not?

Your statement and Brian's post imply that this is an inevitable result and occurs in all caged primates.

Does my statement imply anything of the sort of all-inclusive inevitability that you suggest?

Start manufacturing evidence to "prove" your point....big problem.

Is all observed evidence necessarily manufactured?

Is it possible for monkeys and apes to go crazy? Is it ever realistic to assume by simple observation and without scientifically well-structured study that a caged primate that chews off its fingers or one which bangs incessantly against the interior of its cage is going crazy? Can a monkey or ape that goes crazy for whatever reason be considered to be suffering? If monkeys and apes can go crazy (or be driven crazy), is it possible then to make comparisons with human emotional disturbances?

If primates can go crazy simply by being imprisoned in cages, so what? I make no value judgments about the moral issues surrounding primate research. Because of their intelligence and close relationship to humans, however, might the public want to hold primates to the same standards as humans for judging whether primate mistreatment is ethical? Even if it's considered unethical to cause suffering in primates (or other lab animals), might it be in the greater interest to the human condition to permit such unethical treatment in order to find cures to devastating human disorders? How do you convince the public and politicians to feel all right with the fact that animals have to sometimes suffer and die during the course of experimental research?

These are important questions that explore how closely we should align the ethics of primate treatment with similar ethical considerations for humans. What we ought not do is try with all our might to disavow that primates suffer in the cause of experimentation. Call a spade a spade: apes in cages get fucked-up in the head. To believe obvious observational evidence does not mean that one is admitting to the abandonment of the scientific approach, but railing against the putatively unscientific nature of believing obvious observational evidence in this case might mean that one is trying to dodge an unsavory accusation.

But so what if apes have to suffer? If such experimentation might someday cure or create better treatments for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or cancer, then it might be worth causing some psychological trauma to apes. Such decisions and determinations will have to be made collectively, through the political process, but that's where acknowledging that apes suffer can cause problems with the continuing procurement of funding for research. It appears that we have to do all we can to assert that "apes don't suffer from being held captive in cages for long periods of time" because admitting to primate suffering would likely cause a firestorm of public protest and result in a cut to important research funding.

Here's my ultimate point: privately acknowledge that denying that primates suffer during the course of experimentation is political cover to keep from attracting scrutiny from the public at large, then try to come up with ways over time to cultivate in the public's eye a valid justification for permitting a necessary amount of primate suffering in the effort to abate disease, but don't be silly and suggest that caged primates which clearly behave insanely due to their captivity are not suffering from insanity simply because you "scanned the PubMed-available literature on self-injurious behavior in laboratory primates" and concluded that insanity in caged apes seems to be "a false implication".

Is all observed evidence necessarily manufactured?


Should all "evidence" manufactured by animal rights activists be viewed with as dubious?

Heck yeah.

Of course though, just to be safe, the accusations should be followed up on and investigated, as everyone here is saying. And that investigation is underway.

But for your ultimate point on the "sanity" of caged primate research subjects, you say:

but don't be silly and suggest that caged primates which clearly behave insanely due to their captivity are not suffering from insanity simply because you "scanned the PubMed-available literature on self-injurious behavior in laboratory primates" and concluded that insanity in caged apes seems to be "a false implication".

You're missing the point: if you think it's so clearly a result of the conditions of captivity, get involved and help the researchers who do the navel-gazing to improve conditions. (That is, add something to the scientific discussion.)

For instance, (at least) some research centers work to enrich the cognitive environment for their animals. Are you just saying that you want more of that? If so, fine - I don't think you'll find many objectors if you want to advance that position.

To add to that last comment, take note of the link that Tom left, including this:

5. What You Donât See. In the video we never see any footage of the large outdoor enclosures in which MOST of the monkeys are housed. Despite the fact that 77% of the monkeys live in social (2 or more) housing, we only tend to see single housed monkeys (an exception is made for infant monkeys that hug one another). Below we see an example of outdoor housing at ONPRC.

How insane do you think captivity is driving these primates?

PM "but it should be noted that their mere captivity is a form of mistreatment."

It can be, but that very much depends on the treatment during captivity. I'd agree that keeping a monkey alone in a cage for prolonged periods of time is eventually going to cause it problems but monkeys are usually group housed in large cages with environmental enrichment, and only housed in individual cages for shorter periods during studies. ONPRC mentioned by Dan above is a good example of this…

They are also refreshingly open with the media, an example other primate research centres would do well to follow.

I'm not naive enough to believe that everything is always hunky dory in laboratories, and it appears that New Iberia have some explaining to do, no doubt the investigation that has started will no doubt tell us what really happened. Coming from the UK where regulation of animal research is considerably tougher I'd like to see the regulations covering animal research in the USA streamlined, and where necessary strengthened, so that all institutions have to meet the standards set by the best. A tougher USDA inspection regime with more unannounced visits might also help to reassure the public and ensure that institutions comply with all regulations at all times. Perhaps bringing all NIH affiliated primate research centres up to best practice standards would be a good use for some of the stimulus money that the NIH will receive.

Research on monkeys is still very important to medical progress, and though I hate to admit it even some invasive research on Chimps still seems unavoidable. An example is work on Hepatitis C vacines, for which no alternatives for pre-clinical testing of prophylactic vaccine efficacy are available or likely to become available in the near future. This by the way was the work for which the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases obtained several chimps from New Iberia.

I thought a comment on the Scientist under the title "The water's not all that hot" by an (unfortunately) anynomous poster who claims to have visited New Iberia on several occasions makes several good observations about the HSUS footage.

"The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is NOT concerned with the humane use and treatment of animals as pets or as research subjects. HSUS is an ANIMAL RIGHTS organization (with a touchy-feely name) that is dedicated to the elimination of animals and animal products from daily human activities. This animal rights/activist group (HSUS) has posted on their self-serving website a 7min videoclip containing footage purportedly obtained by their member who infiltrated New Iberia facility last year. Note also that this was not an ?investigation? by a trained animal welfare officer. This HSUS individual was a covert operative carrying a hidden camera beneath protective headgear. The sole purpose for the videotaping appears to be to provide footage that could be edited and used in any context that HSUS then chose.…

To the layman, certain activities that are shown in the video could be misinterpreted as "cruel or inhumane" as implied by the narrator's provocative voice-over. For example, we see a conscious young macaque (poignantly described as a "baby") being used in an "experiment" while it is "awake and alert." The "experiment" actually appears to be the routine collection of a small blood sample. There is no need to anesthetize the monkey in this situation anymore than your 5 year-old child would be anesthetized to provide a blood sample in a doctor's office.

The research is given a blanket description of "scientifically questionable" by the narrator, but the nature of that research is never even mentioned. We see an animal handler removing ("yanking") a monkey from its cage using the industry-standard pole-and-collar technique. Another macaque has been "forced" into a restraint chair when, in fact, it appears to be sitting there quite peacefully.

My company (like many others) has used the valuable resources of New Iberia for selected studies that are not feasibly conducted in any other species. Site inspections of New Iberia by our own employees (veterinarians and researchers) have found nothing but the highest standards of medical care and concern for the animals? well-being. Indeed, we have witnessed chimpanzees VOLUNTARILY extend a arm from between the bars of their cages to have a blood sample drawn from an arm vein. No anesthetics, no darting and no squeeze cages are employed...the animals do this willingly. If the chimps were fearful of humans due to mistreatment or abuse by their caretakers, such behavior on the part of the chimps would never occur.

Much of the remainder of the video discusses Federal funding of the center and "retirement sanctuaries" for great apes. None of these latter issues is related to potential Animal Welfare Act violations.

I would be very surprised if even a fraction of HSUS? 108 pages of purported AWA ?violations? has any basis in fact or reality. But you can be assured that the HSUS execs are likely kicking back right now with a fat stogie, clicking their glasses of champagne, and slapping each other high-fives for the turmoil this press release has generated. The USDA will spend countless hours investigating these allegations; companies that run contract studies at New Iberia will send their own investigators down to visit to confirm that the facility hasn?t inexplicably spiraled downhill in the last eight months since this HSUS person infiltrated New Iberia. All this has to be done, of course, because people have to cover their backsides. In the meantime, HSUS has accomplished its agenda by creating a state of commotion and unrest in the research community and the public press.

Please approach this HSUS animal rights propaganda campaign with a critical eye."

If the video-tapes are edited to imply something is happening that is not, that is one thing. The important thing that I took from this post is the statement by Dr. Goodall, who can hardly be considered an animal-rights terrorist.

Whether the New Iberia facility should be shut down based solely on these videotapes is questionable, and I agree on that. What needs to be done is follow-up with a completely independent investigation of the facilities to determine what is happening to the primates. If it is all doctored and the primates live in "Nicey-Nicey" land, then fine. If the primates are found to be mistreated then corrective steps must be taken.

The objections placed here by people who think that no undercover journalism should ever take place are a side-track to the real issue. Food Lion was caught re-coloring expired hamburger by an investigative journalist several years ago, but their P.R. machine, aided by Talk Radio pundits who were "outraged, outraged, I tell you," that anyone would ever go undercover to investigate a company, deflected the issue and Food Lion was never taken to task.

The lawsuit of Dan Rathers is a clear illustration of how a serious issue can be deflected to focus on the person who breaks the news of, say a draft-dodging President and then people lose their outrage over the crime being committed.

Advanced primates such as chimpanzees deserve good treatment in an environment which approximates their natural environment if we are going to use them for biomedical research. It's an ethical trade.

bluedude, Goodall is a naturalist who wants to protect and preserve chimps in the *wild*. She's not a neutral actor in this. The fact that she's not a "terrorist", whether true or not (who knows where she donates?) is beside the point. She opposes chimps in captivity for research purposes, period, from this perspective. You are free to respect her clearly expert opinion but it comes from a certain direction and you should recognize this.

Whether the New Iberia facility should be shut down based solely on these videotapes is questionable, and I agree on that. What needs to be done is follow-up with a completely independent investigation of the facilities to determine what is happening to the primates. If it is all doctored and the primates live in "Nicey-Nicey" land, then fine. If the primates are found to be mistreated then corrective steps must be taken.

agreed, except for the part about nicey-nice land. there are certain undeniable facts about the use of animals in research and if you are allegedly in favor of animal research than you need to accept these facts. It may, and I emphasize "may", be the case that in order to accomplish the justifiable goal (and we're talking all species here, not just chimps)you do something other than observe it from afar in the natural habitat. You get this, right? because you can't claim to be in favor of nebulous concepts of biomedical research without accepting this as a starting point.

By Cleveland (not verified) on 13 Mar 2009 #permalink

The Ohio State university "on research" blog has a good commentary making some of the same points made above in a piece entitled "What we don't see..."

the problem with HSUS is that they are clearly using clver editing to present an image of New Iberia that is not accurate. That's not to say that the treatment of primates at New Iberia hasn't ever fallen short of best practive, but it's pretty clear thet what HSUS and Nightline presented was a stitch up.

This kind of misrepresentation is precisely what makes it hard for many scientists to work with supposidly moderate animal welfare organizations like HSUS.

It's not just the conduct of the AR extremists that is a problem.

By Paul Browne (not verified) on 13 Mar 2009 #permalink

If the belief is that publicly released videos such as HSUS's represent conditions that are common to primates used for research, & if that belief is then asserted to be an assumption, then equally assumptive are assertions such as: "the video is based on minimal actual evidence, a few seconds here and there spliced together for maximum effect" (Cleveland), "such events, while unacceptable, are the exception not the rule of welfare in animal research facilities" (Tom), "the typical year long mole-in-the-facility stint produces a few seconds (sometimes minutes) of 'evidence' which is far from definitive and often could easily have been faked" (DrugMonkey). Undercover operatives in fact produce many hours of video evidence; the question is then one of how that tape is edited. Do they show isolated incidents, or something more systemic?

It is believed that roughly 10% of all individually housed primates self-mutilate. Self-mutilation is an extreme form of neurotic behavior; the percent of primates who exhibit lesser symptoms of anxiety and distress is certainly higher - probably much higher. Obviously then, what we see on video regarding these behaviors is systemic - it occurs in 10%+ of the primates being individually housed while used for research - even when the number of animals displaying various neurotic behaviors may be, at any one given time, relatively small. It is not, however, a matter of opinion that such neurotic behaviors result from caging and the performance of research procedures: it's accepted scientific fact. Hence the literature on self-mutilation (a term which in recent years has given way to the softer-sounding "self-injury") to be found on PubMed. Though interestingly, a perusal of those papers will show that often as not the interest in self-mutilation amongst non-human primates revolves around the desire to further understanding on the same problem in humans (whose number of self-mutilators tend to be described as "significant," while the number of non-human primates suffering from the same disorder are more dismissively described by terms like "relatively small" or "a relatively small proportion"). A number of countries have now eliminated or severely restricted research procedures involving great apes on ethical grounds; it is time for the U.S. to follow suit. This would at least constitute a beginning.

Concerning The Ohio State university "on research" blog: presumably the caveats Cleveland raised regarding Jane Goodall's statements should apply here as well. One comment made on that blog deserves comment though: "Lastly, the program [Nightline] stated that neither university officials nor those from the NIH elected to be interviewed on air, instead providing written statements from which only a few words were shown. Who can blame them â or any researchers for that matter â for declining the opportunity to be grilled on air based on selective, edited video provided by an anonymous source?" One would have thought that a nationally broadcast show alleging abusive conditions would have been taken as a most opportune moment to speak out in their own defense. Instead, we are treated to the typical PR spin. Watch me roll my eyes.

Zeb, do you really think that the decision of the New Iberia managers not to walk into what was effectively a HSUS arranged ambush means anything? Were ther given time to view and analyze the footage and see what the allegations were? I suspect not. They certainly made a lot of effort subsequently to discuss the allegations with the press, for example

By Paul Browne (not verified) on 16 Mar 2009 #permalink

It was my understanding that USDA found them in violation of animal welfare.
I do not believe this is staged, animal research is ruthless, and one day it will be part of history that most will want to forget.....

My disgust at being human grows daily. Cruel, parasitic vermin with the will and means to destroy.

By Michael gabriel (not verified) on 29 Oct 2009 #permalink