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October 24, 2012

Meet Derek, a Baboon Used in Research

Derek was captured in Africa and shipped to a U.S. university

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    There are no known images of Derek. This stock photo of a Chacma baboon illustrates what he may have looked like. SeanNel/iStockphoto.com

Derek* was a Chacma baboon born in the wild in the African nation of Tanzania. When he was still an infant, he was captured, sold and shipped to a U.S. university where he would spend the remaining years of his life being used in harmful experiments.

Traumatic existence

During his time at the university laboratory, Derek was subjected twice to whole body irradiation, a procedure that involved extensive handling by laboratory personnel and forcible restraint. Bone marrow samples were removed from his leg bones so they could later be reintroduced into his body with newly contained foreign genetic material, which his body later rejected.

Derek received drugs through an IV for 98 consecutive days immediately following his bone marrow surgery and undergoing whole body irradiation. In addition, during a single one hundred-day period, Derek received over 300 doses of eight different substances.

Derek also underwent surgery to have a graft placed on a blocked artery, but the graft failed. On three other occasions, he underwent surgery to have a port for draining fluid placed in a large vein on his left leg, again requiring him to be handled by laboratory personnel and forcibly restrained.

While having his leg shaved for a procedure, Derek sustained a traumatic injury to his left knee from the hair clippers and had to have some of the affected tissue removed and sutured. He also suffered from diarrhea and severe oral lesions, which were likely stress-induced.

Emotional toll

During his two years at the laboratory, Derek was moved to a new cage 25 times, handled 433 times and spent 77 percent of his life in the facility caged alone.

Being handled by humans and being introduced to new environments are stressful events for baboons—as is living alone in a cage since in the wild baboons live in troops of 30-40 members.

In the wild

Wild baboons can only be found in Africa. Females typically give birth every other year to a single infant. For the first month, the mother carries the infant next to her stomach as she travels, holding him with one hand. By the time the baby is 5-6 weeks old he can ride on her back, holding on with all four paws. After a few months, he can ride upright on her back. Babies are typically weaned after one year.

Three months after Derek was born in the wild in Tanzania, records indicate that he was undergoing experiments at the university laboratory. Sadly, he experienced very little time with his mother before he was captured.

Life cut short

Derek died not long after his second birthday. His cause of death is unknown, but he likely died from complications caused by the many experiments performed on him. In the wild, the average lifespan of a baboon is 30 years.

In 2010, more than 110,000 primates like Derek were being kept in U.S. laboratories. Approximately 70,000 of them were used in harmful experiments. The rest (approximately 40,000) were used as “breeders” to produce babies for the research industry.

* "Derek" is the name we gave this monkey. If he was given a name at the laboratory where he lived, it is not mentioned in his records.

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