Group: investigate primate lab deaths, injuries

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Group: investigate primate lab deaths, injuries

By Associated Press, Thursday, January 30, 2014

NEW ORLEANS — An animal rights group said it wants a federal investigation of "gruesome" chimpanzee and monkey deaths and injuries since late 2012 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Tulane University. Louisiana-Lafayette should be fined $60,000 and Tulane $10,000, added the group called Stop Animal Exploitation Now.

SAEN's executive director, Michael Budkie, on Thursday released complaints sent Jan. 24 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Budkie also released pages from the universities' reports about the incidents: the death of a rhesus monkey in 2012 at Tulane and, at Louisiana-Lafayette, injuries to three African green monkeys and the deaths of two chimpanzees in 2012 and a baby rhesus monkey in 2013.

SAEN obtained the university documents through freedom of information requests to USDA, said Budkie. He is asking the maximum $10,000 fine for each alleged violation of lab animal welfare rules.

Tulane's rhesus monkey, used for breeding rather than experiments at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Covington, died in September 2012 because it was left in the van that took it to see a veterinarian, according to a letter from Laura S. Levy, vice president for research.

She wrote that some workers were disciplined and all were retrained. She added that transport cages are now loaded only from the back of the vehicle and placed so that workers can see inside, and vehicles are now checked at the end of each shift to ensure all carrying cages are empty.

Tulane "thoroughly investigated and reported" the incident to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, the university said Thursday. "The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare approved the corrective and disciplinary actions undertaken by Tulane following this incident."

The green monkeys' teeth were knocked out by "improper use of a pole" in June 2012, according to a letter from Robert R. Twilley, then vice president for research at Louisiana-Lafayette. He said the New Iberia Research Center worker who injured the animals was immediately placed on administrative leave and fired within weeks, and other managers were told to make sure all workers were using proper techniques for handling animals.

Monkeys often are moved by threading a hook at the end of a metal pole through metal rings or slots on their collars.

The baby rhesus monkey died after paralysis and numbness spread from its left leg to both legs. "The lumbar spinal cord is soft" and possibly dead, according to a necropsy report dated May 3.

Budkie questioned whether the animal had been treated adequately.

"For the spinal cord to become necrotic, it doesn't happen in five minutes. It takes a while," Budkie said. "The post mortem doesn't talk about any of the treatments being given. Usually they go into some details about the case."

The pathologist ruled out trauma and infection, a university response said. "We believe that this animal was born with an irreversible congenital condition. The animal was humanely euthanized and it did not feel any pain as a result of this condition," said the response emailed by spokesman Charles R Bier.

The chimpanzees collapsed and died two days apart in December 2012 while being prepared for tuberculosis tests before they were sent elsewhere — one of them to a sanctuary, according to a letter from Ramesh Kolluru, Louisiana-Lafayette's interim vice president for research. He wrote that routine handling practices were used, and both chimps knew the people who cared for them and generally cooperated with sedation needed for the TB test.

The second necropsy was inconclusive; the first indicated that high blood pressure, possibly related to diabetes, may have led to "cardiovascular collapse," Kolluru's letter said.

"Usually, animals don't just drop dead for no reason whatsoever," Budkie said. He said handling stress might have contributed to the deaths.

The university sent a copy of the federal response to the university's report of those deaths. Brent Morse of the federal Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare commended the university's prompt reporting and wrote on March 7, "We ... find no cause for further action by this office."

Louisiana-Lafayette paid an $18,000 fine in 2010 to settle complaints made the previous year by the Humane Society of the United States. It paid $38,570 in fines last year for the deaths of three rhesus monkeys in May 2011 and an injury to a chimpanzee in 2012. 

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