Animal welfare group blasts MSU for research monkey deaths
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now


Contact the USDA to Demand a Maximum FINE against Montana State University:

Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region, USDA
(970) 494-7478
[email protected] 
[email protected] 


Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against Montana State University for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act which caused three monkeys to become seriously ill, with two dying from infections. Their negligence MUST NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


Animal welfare group blasts MSU for research monkey deaths
By Gail Schontzler,, August 5, 2016

The animal welfare group SAEN is demanding that the federal government fine Montana State University $30,000 after three monkeys used in brain research suffered serious bacterial infections and two died.

Michael Budkie, Ohio-based executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, sent a letter this week calling for the maximum fines of $10,000 per animal for the university’s “negligence” and “major violations” of the Animal Welfare Act.

His letter was directed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plan Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regional director in Colorado, Dr. Robert Gibbens.

MSU responded this week with a statement calling the animals’ deaths “very unfortunate” and saying that the university had taken immediate action to understand and correct the problems. MSU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee also adopted more rigorous procedures to protect research animals.

MSU takes the care of research animals “very seriously and has their humane treatment as its highest priority,” university spokesman Tracy Ellig wrote in an email. “These incidents have made the university examine its procedures and implement new safeguards to improve the care of these important animals.”

MSU uses macaque monkeys in research on memory and brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ADD, schizophrenia and autism.

“Without basic animal research, development of treatments for these devastating disease would be impossible,” Ellig wrote.

Currently MSU has 10 monkeys at its Animal Research Center. Ellig wouldn’t disclose the name of the principal scientist using the macaques, noting that nationally labs and researchers using animals have been “threatened and harassed.”

Most of this brain research can’t be conducted on humans, and macaque brains are closely related, Ellig said. Because of the “high-risk, high-significance” of such research, national agencies have awarded MSU millions of dollars to study mental disorders and their treatment.

“At MSU, we are very cognizant that we owe a debt of gratitude to the animals who are helping us advance human – and animal – health,” Ellig wrote. “As such we aspire to treat them humanely and respectfully.”

Budkie said SAEN monitors labs across the nation and got the MSU information from the USDA inspection report, not a whistleblower. He rejected the idea that MSU cares about the research monkeys.

“If you’re really concerned with the welfare of animals and respect them, you don’t do research like this at all,” Budkie said.

He said labs across the country that use macaques in research often use devices “literally bolted into their skulls.” They often use primate restraint chairs and restraint bars surgically implanted in the animals’ heads to force them to look forward while they’re exposed to visual stimulation and electrodes record brain activity, he said.

“If you have respect for an animal, do you do an experiment on them against their will, bolting devices into their skull, confining them to a primate chair, connecting electrodes?” Budkie said.

He argued such research hasn’t produced any life-saving cures and could be replaced by functional MRI studies with human volunteers.

“The only people who benefit are those who are paid to do it and the institutions,” he charged.

Ellig declined to describe the current research. Several years ago, MSU let a reporter visit the Animal Research Center and see the animals, including macaques that had metal ports implanted in their skulls so that electrical wires could be inserted more easily.

APHIS conducted a routine inspection on June 9. According to the written report by Dr. Gwynn Hallberg, veterinarian and inspector, in 2015 three animals got infections in their surgical implants.

“All received immediate care at the onset of signs of illness,” the inspection report said. Ellig emphasized that point.

Two animals died. During surgery to treat the infection, one arrested and a second had to be euthanized when the extent of the infection was found to be too great to continue, the inspector’s report said. The third animal had all implants removed to allow for healing and “is currently doing well,” it reported.

The inspection report cited two problems – personnel qualification and adequate veterinary care. The report said that all personnel must be properly trained, a problem that MSU corrected by bringing in an outside expert to prescribe more rigorous procedures.

The second problem was that supplies in a cabinet were found to be older than their stamped expiration dates, including antibiotic ointment, sutures and bone wax, which could compromise their effectiveness, sterility and safety, the report said. To correct that problem, MSU removed those from the lab at the time of the inspection.

Ellig wrote that in 2014, MSU’s Animal Research Center received the highest rating of “exemplary,” given to only the top 10 percent of research centers by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

“Bacterial infections are a fact of life in both human and animal surgeries,” Ellig said. “It is impossible to reduce the risk … to zero.”

Budkie argued that if MSU had treated the animals properly, the infections would have been treated promptly and all three would likely have recovered.

Asked if APHIS was considering any fines, agency spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa replied that generally, if an inspection finds problems, a research facility is given a deadline to correct matters. A fine would occur if an investigation were opened, enforcement action taken to require compliance, and an administrative law judge decided to assess a fine. 

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