Three Rhesus monkeys die at UL research center

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Three Rhesus monkeys die at UL research center

By Clare Taylor,, Thursday, June 23, 2011

UL Lafayette's New Iberia Research Center [University of Louisiana, Lafayette, LA] violated a federal regulation in connection with the deaths of three Rhesus monkeys, a May 31 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service alleges.

The Rhesus monkeys, all one- to two year-old yearlings, died after they were "accidentally blocked" in a chute connecting two outdoor cages, NIRC Director Thomas Rowell said on Wednesday.

Michael Budkie, executive director of the research watchdog group Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, provided The Daily Advertiser with the report and a letter he sent Wednesday to the USDA seeking citations against UL Lafayette.

The USDA report, based on a self-report that Rowell submitted, states that the three monkeys' bodies had begun to decompose inside the enclosed metal chute, "therefore they had been trapped for some time and not properly monitored."

That indicates the NIRC did not follow Animal Welfare Act regulations requiring daily observation, the report states.

The monkeys probably died from dehydration or starvation, which may have taken days, Budkie said. It also probably took several days for the bodies to decompose, which means the monkeys were probably trapped inside the chute for up to a week before anyone noticed they were missing, he said.

Rowell said the monkeys were found on May 26. That same day, the research center notified the appropriate regulatory agencies. The NIRC's senior management is investigating as well as the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, he said.

"On a personal note, when the animals were found, the staff was devastated and still are dealing with the loss today as we go through the review process," Rowell said.

The university's investigations could take up to another week. The USDA has not visited the NIRC about the incident, he said.

Budkie's group has previously reported alleged problems at the NIRC at least three times.

The USDA investigated the NIRC in 2009 after The Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation. The group produced a video that allegedly showed physical and psychological abuse of the animals. The national news magazine Nightline featured the society's undercover video and investigation.

The USDA found six deficiencies, all of which were addressed by May 2010 when the NIRC agreed to settle with the USDA, paying an $18,000 fine and waiving its right to a hearing. In the settlement, the NIRC neither admitted nor denied that any of the citations occurred or that the research center's action constituted violations.

The NIRC houses about 6,500 primates. Some are used for research. Others are bred for the National Institutes of Health, which uses them for research.

A fire and explosions last week at Multi-Chem, a chemical blending facility next door to the NIRC, prompted concern for hundreds of rhesus monkeys housed and bred in the outdoor cages nearest the facility. Rowell said last week that the monkeys are being observed and monitored for signs of illness or distress resulting from that incident.

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