New operator of Mesa 'Monkey Farm' facility breeding primates for use in medical research
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New operator of Mesa 'Monkey Farm' facility breeding primates for use in medical research
By Jessica Boehm,, July 6, 2017

The former "Monkey Farm" facility in Mesa is now a breeding center for primates used in medical research.

Drone footage posted to YouTube this past weekendshowed monkeys walking around in a caged facility on Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community land near Higley Road and Loop 202.

That facility was once home to the Primate Foundation of Arizona, a chimpanzee sanctuary turned medical-research facility. The site was often referred to as the Mesa Monkey Farm. The foundation shuttered in 2006.

Those chimps were sent to a Texas research facility. But in 2013, a group of pigtail macaques moved into their old cages.

For years, hikers and curious Arizona history buffs stumbled upon the facility. While some believed it to be abandoned, others noticed signs of life, sparking speculation about why there are monkeys in the desert.

Facility run by University of Washington center

The Washington National Primate Research Center has bred the small monkeys at the facility for about four years, according to University of Washington spokeswoman Tina Mankowski.

The university-run center is one of seven national primate research facilities in the country. It operates its research facilities in the Seattle area and breeds the monkeys in Arizona and Louisiana. A small number also are bred in Seattle for maternal and infant research.

There are currently 368 pigtail macaques at the Arizona facility.

Mankowski said the university chose the site because infrastructure was already in place and the weather was desirable. The facility is both outdoor and indoor and has air-conditioning for the monkeys, she said.

No research is conducted at the Arizona facility, but once the monkeys are bred, they are used in the university's Seattle laboratories for research for the National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mankowski said.

According to the university's website, the studies performed at the Primate Research Center have included color-blindness treatment and remobilization of limbs after paralyzing injuries.

Mankowski said the university employs about 20 veterinarians, techs and others to care for the primates at the Arizona facility.

The university leases the land from the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Tribal Council.

"We are regularly inspected by USDA and other regulatory agencies and are committed to providing exemplary care for these non-human primates," she said.

Concerns, citations at center's facilities

Animal-advocacy groups say they're fearful that the monkeys aren't receiving proper care.

Michael Budkie, co-founder and executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN), said his group became aware of the Arizona facility in 2014 when he said it received University of Washington internal records about unusual injuries at the facility.

Those records, which were provided to The Arizona Republic, document seven monkey deaths at the Arizona facility in 2013, the first year it was operational. The University of Washington confirmed the authenticity of the reports.

Some of the deaths appear to be from natural causes. But Budkie said his group was concerned, particularly about a male that died during treatment for traumatic injuries and an infection and a mother who attacked its own infant. Employees euthanized the infant after the attack.

Budkie said this behavior is unusual for monkeys and could have been a byproduct of stress due to captivity.

Another infant was attacked by a male monkey, resulting in severe injuries and euthanasia.

Budkie said SAEN reported the information to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the regulatory body for animal testing.

The USDA confirmed that the breeding facility is licensed as a satellite location for the University of Washington. It was not cited for any non-compliance during its last inspection.

But other facilities run by the Washington National Primate Research Center have seen more recent USDA scrutiny.

Earlier this year, the USDA cited the center after an 8-year-old pigtail macaque died of severe dehydration when a water line disconnected from the monkey's cage in Seattle.

Mankowski said the university self-reported the monkey's death to the USDA and NIH, as it does with all unexpected deaths and injuries. The employee responsible for the animal's care was dismissed because of his negligence, she said.

In 2015, the university was forced to euthanize three monkeys in Seattle afterresearchers attempted to fit them with skull and vertebral implants, according to the USDA.

Mankowski said the university was cited because of its research protocols, not because of the implants.

"We have better ways of doing research now," Budkie said.

He said clinical research studies and 3-D bioprinting are "all much more scientifically accurate."

Testing on non-human primates is on the rise in the United States, according to the USDA. Last year, 71,188 monkeys were used at research facilities. That's the highest number since 2010.

According to the USDA website, the agency conducts routine, unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. Frequency of inspections depends on multiple factors, including compliance history.See also:

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