Activists protest primate starvation

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

By Celina Kareiva
January 21, 2010

Six to seven angry protesters lined the sidewalk in front of the downtown location of the UW Primate Facility yesterday. The protest was led by Stop Animal Exploitation Now! (SAEN) and the Northwest Animal Rights Network (NARN). The group of mostly graduate students and concerned community members held signs that read, “No federal money for torture,” and, “Cruelty is criminal.”

Photo by Andrew Spott.
UW graduate student Diane Venberg joins the protest
in front of the UW Primate Facility on Western Ave.

Last week, a Seattle Times article revealed a USDA inspection from September 2009 in which a pig-tailed macaque was found starved to death in the UW’s Washington National Primate Research Center (WNPRC). “It’s not just the starvation. Monkeys are very social animals, more so than most humans, and the little steel cages they are kept in [for research] are actually called isolates,” said graduate student Diane Venberg. “For some primates, their entire life was spent this way.”

The male monkey had lost 25 percent of its body weight and was severely malnourished. Reports claim that it died in April 2009.

According to Director David Anderson of the WNPRC, the macaque had recently been introduced to a new group of monkeys, and the dominant animals were likely depriving it of food. Though the monkey was ill, it concealed any signs of weakness to avoid being preyed on. Anderson said that this may explain why researchers never realized the animal was starving. The monkey also had not been weighed at regular intervals, as it was supposed to be.

Though the university declared the starvation an accident, Rachel Bjork of NARN said the primate not being weighed on a regular basis suggests sloppy caretaking.

“The university claimed it was an accident,” said Bjork, the UW alumna who coordinated yesterday’s protest. “That’s unacceptable. And the fact is, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The USDA may have only uncovered this one thing, but if this wasn’t caught till recently, what else is going on?”

Bjork referred to other instances in UW’s history where animal abuse has been documented.

In 2008, the WNPRC was investigated for 41 unauthorized surgeries monitoring eye movement. In 1995, five baboons died of thirst at a UW primate center near Spokane, Wash.

“The negligence at the UW caused a primate to starve to death,” said Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN, in a press release. “It is time for meaningful action by government agencies.”

Bjork doesn’t expect any researchers to be held accountable, simply because the incident was labeled an accident. However, she hopes the protest helps educate students and raises awareness about animal cruelty.

“On a very callous level, it’s a money concern because a lot of money is going to funding these experiments,” Bjork said. “Secondly, this is happening on campus, so students should know about it. How can you expect the university to do basic science when it can’t even care for its test subjects?”

The UW owns the largest of eight federal primate facilities in the country. September’s USDA inspection did not reveal where the violation had taken place, only that it had happened in one of the UW’s Seattle-based primate facilities. The UW has primate facilites at the Magnuson Health Sciences Center on campus, on Western Avenue downtown, and in the Rosen Building in South Lake Union.

“It’s been going on for quite some time,” Bjork said. “We do our best to get information about the conditions, but a lot of it’s obtained through public records. Something crops up at least once a year.”

Bjork said that ideally, they would like to stop the testing going on in the facilities, adding, “we realize that might not be very realistic.”.

See Also:

Return to Media Coverage

We welcome your comments and questions