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University of Houston animal welfare program corrected after four monkeys died during research



Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Animal Welfare Operations, USDA-APHIS
[email protected] 
[email protected] 

Please LEVY a MAXIMUM FINE against the University of Houston for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) when their negligence allowed four monkeys to die unnecessarily. Their behavior must NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.


University of Houston animal welfare program corrected after four monkeys died during research

From Samantha Ketterer,, October 18, 2022

A routine inspection unveiled the deaths of four monkeys at the University of Houston’s research labs this year, leading to several changes in their animal welfare program.

The August inspection resulted in three critical violations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. UH confirmed that the animals died during biomedical research, adding that the program has since corrected its training and procedures.

“The loss of four nonhuman primates who died in two of our research labs is devastating and of concern to us,” a UH statement reads. “We hold ourselves accountable and as a university community who has compassion for animals, the loss of these animals is unacceptable to us. We have taken extensive corrective action to make sure this cannot and does not happen again and are evaluating additional changes to research protocols to ensure our research labs not only meet or exceed regulatory standards but also exceed the community’s expectations of care.”

UH officials said that the deaths took place over a six-month period in the 2020-2021 school year. While they declined to elaborate further, the federal report described the occurrences.

The first violation stemmed from one worker’s lacking qualifications in surgery, which resulted in primates over a four-year period having to undergo multiple repair and surgical procedures that lasted “much longer than normal,” according to the USDA report.

One monkey died in December 2020 after a surgical error resulted in the penetration of a layer of connective tissue surrounding the brain. USDA officials determined that the facility hadn’t reviewed the worker’s qualifications frequently enough, and they were mandated to be retrained.

Two other deaths occurred related to poor sterilization of surgical equipment, according to the report. Lab personnel reused needles and syringes to flush skin on the head of the primates, and they failed to properly sterilize them for a sufficient period, the USDA investigator found. Three primates experienced brain abscesses, leading to two being euthanized.

The investigator learned that lab employees had never received official training for sterilization techniques, according to the report.

The USDA inspection also recorded several miscellaneous issues, including workers not following guidance to use drill guides during cranial surgeries, leading to the penetration of brain matter. Others included failing to follow advice that aids in wound healing in infections. And another issue resulted in the final monkey's death in March 2021, when a Rhesus macaque experienced anesthetic complications after an infection, the investigator said. The monkey was mistakenly given an anesthetic rather than a reversal drug and died.

UH officials said their Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Animal Care Operations also investigated the deaths, recorded the circumstances and initiated several corrections to the animal welfare program.

“We know that the significant medical knowledge gained from animal research improves and saves the lives of countless humans and animals, but the use of animals in research for this purpose comes with great responsibility,” the UH statement continues. “UH is committed to enhancing the animal welfare program. We are working closely with USDA officials to take further corrective actions and are in the final stages of an external review of our nonhuman primate program.”

Some of the changes include the retraining of lab personnel in surgical and sterilization procedures and improvements to surgical equipment.

The improvements also mandate a meeting between Animal Care Operations and the research team a week prior to surgery.

UH officials said they initiated the external review at the onset of issues, before the USDA inspection.

No animals have died since, according to the school.

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