Animal rights group criticizes Texas Biomed after primate deaths

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Animal rights group criticizes Texas Biomed after primate deaths

By Jennifer R. Lloyd,, Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SAN ANTONIO — The Texas Biomedical Research Institute defended the quality of care for its 2,500 primates Tuesday after a watchdog group criticized its handling of six that have died there since April 2012 — most of them after getting entangled in their enclosures.

The Ohio-based group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! blamed the deaths on violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

Since 2012, three juvenile baboons and two juvenile macaques have died after getting caught in cables or wires associated with their enclosures and an adult chimpanzee was euthanized after surgery due to an infection, according to USDA inspection reports and letters from Texas Biomed to the National Institutes of Health.

“Clearly, the level of negligence at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute is severe and in many instances fatal,” Michael Budkie, co-founder of the watchdog group, wrote in the latest of several complaints against the institute he said he has filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The institute issued a statement Tuesday, saying it's in compliance with government regulations pertaining to primate care.

“Occasionally, unfortunate accidents occur,” the statement said. “These events are rare and when they do occur, remedies are immediately put in place to ensure that the chance of recurrence is minimized as much as possible.”

The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regulates such facilities to ensure that certain warm-blooded animals are treated humanely under the act. Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! called on the USDA to levy $40,000 in fines against Texas Biomed.

Calls to the USDA and NIH's Office of Extramural Research, which oversees the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, were not returned Tuesday.

Budkie released copies of the letters to the NIH. The USDA reports are available online. The documents described these incidents:

  • In June 2013, “a juvenile baboon died after being caught in the cable for a guillotine door,” a USDA inspection report states. The cable was “incorrectly anchored” and the baboon “slipped the cable around his neck resulting in strangulation.”
  • The same report says that “two juvenile macaques died from similar strangulation incidents involving guillotine door cables” in a 12-month period. Subsequently, caretakers in that area “were retrained in the proper way to secure the guillotine doors” and the door cables there were modified to make them inaccessible to animals. However, in the area of the most recent death, the report noted that “the cable doors had not been modified and were still accessible to the animals.”
  • In June 2013, a 24-year-old male chimpanzee was euthanized. It had undergone a liver wedge biopsy surgery but repeatedly picked at his sutures. Though the staff attempted to medicate, sedate, distract or otherwise keep the sutures intact, an infection developed, says a June 26, 2013, letter to NIH.
  • On April 11, 2012, two male juvenile baboons accidentally died because “the neck chains attached to the identification tag for both baboons (were) caught in a loop of wire” used to attach part of the cage, says an Aug. 9, 2012, letter to NIH. A post-mortem examination pointed to asphyxiation as the likely cause of death. Afterward, animal care staff members were reminded that they're responsible for inspecting the baboon housing areas every time they perform routine husbandry duties, such as cage washing and feeding.

In December 2011, the USDA fined Texas Biomed $25,714 for three violations of the Animal Welfare Act after two baboons escaped their enclosure and injured a caretaker in May 2010, and a 2009 incident in which a rhesus monkey escaped and was euthanized, weakened from spending a cold night outside.

If Texas Biomed “can't even house the animals properly and care for them properly, why should we believe they're following the protocols that are the basis for experimentation?” Budkie asked in an interview Tuesday.

In its statement, Texas Biomed said it is “in full compliance with regulations regarding the care and well-being of its research animals established by the USDA, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies.”

“In the case of the events cited, Texas Biomed reported these incidents to the appropriate oversight agencies,” it said. 

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