Primate center slated to close - Activists cite negative press

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Primate center slated to close - Activists cite negative press

By Paula J. Owen, Telegram & Gazette, Wednesda, April 24, 2013

SOUTHBORO —  Local animal rights advocates and protesters of the facility say they are thrilled with Harvard Medical School’s announcement Tuesday that it will wind down operations at the New England Primate Research Center over the next few years and largely shut it down by 2015. 

But they are also concerned about what will happen to the more than 2,000 primates at the facility. 

In a news release, the medical school said the decision not to seek renewal of a five-year federal grant and to end the “groundbreaking research” into human diseases that has been done at the center the past 50 years was partly based on the difficult climate for obtaining external funding for such research. 

The center, it said, is working with the National Institutes of Health on a transition plan, and the primates will either be moved to other sites, including the other national primate research centers, or be managed at the Southboro facility. 

“Among the plan’s priorities is a staffing strategy that will maintain a high level of care for the animals, ensuring that primates will not be adversely affected by the transition,” the release said. 

David Cameron, director of science communications at Harvard Medical School, said he could not comment on whether the decision had anything to do with ongoing pressure by groups to shut down the facility, including protests after four monkeys died between June 2010 and February 2012 because of inadequate care. 

“Recent funding pressures have added uncertainty to this already challenging fiscal context,” the release said. “As Harvard Medical School leadership evaluated the long-term need to use its resources in the most effective manner across all of its missions, they came to the conclusion that winding down the operations of the (center) was more beneficial to the school than investing further resources in maintaining and renewing the (center’s) grant.” 

But animal rights advocates say they aren’t buying it. 

Protester Jamie R. Cordack, a park ranger from East Brookfield who has participated in protests of the facility for years as a member of the Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said she believes the school was cowed by the negative publicity. 

She said she and others will continue to pressure the school to have some of the primates go to sanctuaries. 

“The worst-newsncase scenario is that none of those animals will go to a sanctuary,” Ms. Cordack said. But at least in the future no more animals will go to Southboro. “There are eight (primate research centers in the U.S.) Now this means there will only be seven.” 

Michael A. Budkie, executive director of her group, hailed Harvard’s decision and called for the retirement of the primates. 

The deaths of the primates and ongoing controversy over their care at the facility, including an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, led to the facility’s closure, Mr. Budkie alleged. 

“Last year there were two dozen negative news stories about Harvard due to deaths at the primate center in the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Boston Globe and other publications,” Mr. Budkie said. “That level of negative media attention and last year’s resignation of the center’s director — with all of that going on they had to do something to get out from under the scandal. The only thing left to do was to close the primate center down. They decided their reputation was more important than the primate center.” 

He said the group plans to contact Harvard to explore the possibility of placing at least some of the primates in sanctuaries. 

“These primates have suffered enough,” he said. “They deserve a chance to have a new life in another environment where their needs will be put first.” 

Steven W. Baer of Shrewsbury, a civil engineer working for the state, has protested the facility for decades. 

“I feel sadness and happiness at the same time,” Mr. Baer said. “It is difficult for those who don’t make it, but we can save those in the pipeline. I wonder what took so long for it to happen and how Harvard’s president would allow this kind of thing to happen.” 

Drew R. Wilson, president of VegWorcester, an animal rights group, said he was thrilled to hear the news that there will be one less primate facility in the U.S. 

“It is a barbaric process banned in many countries,” the WPI graduate said. “I imagine all animal lovers throughout Massachusetts are happy to hear about it.” 

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