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Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Death, Disease & Insanity: Health and Well-Being of Primates at New England National Primate Research Center/Harvard
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN
513-575-5517 [email protected]  

Psychological Well-being of NENPRC Primates

In January of 2003 the Division of Behavioral Biology assessed roughly 360 macaques and squirrel monkeys psychologically. 50 of the squirrel monkeys were found to be behaviorally abnormal, this accounts for 83% of the squirrel monkeys at NENPRC. 300 rhesus macaques were listed as behaviorally abnormal; this is 28% of the rhesus macaques at the center. Some of the primates in this category exhibited self-biting, or as many as 3 other abnormal behaviors. These behaviors are often considered to be the result of either social isolation or stress. Another section of the report lists that 362 rhesus macaques are individually housed, and that 321 of these animals exhibited at least one abnormal behavior. For this group of animals 88.7% exhibited at least one abnormal behavior. This could mean that a minimum of 371 primates (321 rhesus and 50 squirrel monkeys) are psychologically abnormal. Or, a minimum of 30% of the rhesus monkeys and 83% of the squirrel monkeys could be psychologically abnormal. The colony of 60 squirrel monkeys which are initially listed as being evaluated for abnormal behavior are a part of the research colony at NENPRC. The only research projects listed at NENPRC which use squirrel monkeys involve experimentation with addictive drugs (cocaine and heroin). Addiction experimentation can involve the use of primate restraint chairs, the subjecting of the subjects to withdrawal and/or electric shock. The source of the behavioral abnormalities in this group of primates may be the type of experimentation in which they are used. Again, the income generated by these experiments may be put before the welfare of the primates.

However, it appears that the number of animals exhibiting these psychologically abnormal behaviors may be increasing. According to the progress report the number of primates assessed with abnormal behavior increased by 25 (7%) in a six-month period. This increase in abnormal behaviors could be caused by insufficient environmental enhancement by NENPRC staff. Or, it is highly possible that these primates are being deliberately maintained in conditions that promote abnormal behavior because they form the pool of subjects for several experiments at NENPRC which depend on the existence of a population of animals with psychological pathologies. In fact, nine separate experiments at NENPRC are examining psychologically abnormal behavior in captive macaque monkeys. It appears that the funding which this experimentation brings to the research facility may be considered to be more important than the psychological well-being of these primates.

It must also be noted that these statistics are not based on assessments of the total primate population within the center, but on assessments of small segments of the population. The actual percentage of primates with psychological abnormalities is likely to be much larger.

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Rats, mice, birds, amphibians and other animals have been excluded from coverage by the Animal Welfare Act. Therefore research facility reports do not include these animals. As a result of this situation, a blank report, or one with few animals listed, does not mean that a facility has not performed experiments on non-reportable animals. A blank form does mean that the facility in question has not used covered animals (primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, pigs, sheep, goats, etc.). Rats and mice alone are believed to comprise over 90% of the animals used in experimentation. Therefore the majority of animals used at research facilities are not even counted.

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