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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Media Coverage

Monkey business: UW researcher under fire from animal rights group

October 31, 2007
By Erika Cederlind

The UW is facing accusations from the research watchdog group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) regarding allegations that a UW scientist denied water to research monkeys. The complaint, detailed in a press release by the animal group, may be investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The press release focused on Dr. Michael Shadlen, a staff member at the Washington National Primate Research Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The professor is accused of “severely depriving macaque monkeys of water, giving one monkey just over a pint of water for an entire week.”

The press release claimed “several primates in his lab lost over 30 percent of their body weight during the water deprivation.”

SAEN executive director Michael Budkie elaborated.

“The practice of depriving primates of water is such a cruel practice that it should not be allowed by government regulatory agencies,” he said.

The Washington National Primate Research Center is one of eight such institutes in the nation. There are 12 monkeys in the UW center and 2,000 in other centers in the Seattle area. Shadlen conducts studies about primates’ decision-making skills in order to try to understand how the brain interprets information. He hopes this kind of work will be relevant for understanding several neurological disorders.

“I have probably more respect for the monkey mind than anyone else, and it’s always painful to be accused of nastiness,” he said. “He is right that we do restrict water. The monkeys are on a water-control system, but it’s very gradual.”

Shadlen’s research has the primates follow an image on a screen with their eyes. They are not given water in the morning so that they are thirsty when they began the study. After a monkey finishes each task, they are given water or juice. Shadlen explained that the tasks are not difficult and if a monkey does not get enough water during the morning exercises, they will be given more in the afternoon.

“This is a standard practice to use this in animal training because it taps something natural in the monkey,” Shadlen said.

He dismissed SAEN’s concerns regarding the monkeys’ health.

“We looked over our records and none of our monkeys have ever lost 30 percent of their weight,” he said.

Shadlen did admit that one monkey became ill.

“One monkey did get sick and dropped weight, so of course we gave him more water,” Shadlen said.

He added that the health and weight are closely monitored. In response, Budkie said that Shadlen “needed to look more closely at his records.” He disputed Shadlen’s contention that the research is humane.

“[It is] very clear that there is a violation of animal rights,” Budkie said. “The files are state records, open to the public. … There are instances of two monkeys in 2004-05 who lost over 30 percent of their weight due to water deprivation.”

He claims that each of the primates should have received two pints of water per day, and that the UW records show that they only received a pint a week.

In Budkie’s letter to the USDA, he cites one monkey who, “during the week of 1/8/05 –1/24/05 … consumed a total of only 525 milliliters of water, with the total consumption for one day being only 35 milliliters.”

Despite the allegations, Peggy Smith, assistant director of the primate center, believes her institution will rectify the problem.

“In 10 years we’ve made a lot of progress,” she said. “It’s a growing field and this primate center is leading the charge. … It’s something the UW can be proud of.”

SAEN’s press release also claimed that a cover-up of “scientific malfeasance” was being carried out by the University, citing internal UW documents that contain remarks of researchers and officials, include one who supposedly said that she would have to “keep her head in the sand.”

Clare Hagerty, assistant director for media relations at the UW Medical Center, did not find any reason to believe the allegations.

“We have no indication that any of our faculty or staff has falsified information related to this research,” she said.

Budkie, meanwhile, is adamant about an investigation of the University’s practices.

“[The] UW needs to start being more honest — if it isn’t, it’s a violation of federal law,” he said.

Michael Shadlen, associate professor of physiology and biophysics, is under investigation by the USDA for animal cruelty.

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