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October 24, 2012

Meet Lilly, a Rhesus Macaque Used in Research

Lilly had four babies and underwent multiple experimental surgeries

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    There are no known images of Lilly, however this stock photo of a rhesus macaque illustrates what she may have looked like. Dmitry Kalinovsky/iStockphoto.com

Lilly* was born in a university laboratory where she spent the next 16 years of her life. She also likely died in a laboratory, although it is unknown what happened to her after she was sold.

Baby boom

While at the university laboratory, Lilly had four babies. Her first two, named Aysha and Jwala, were both used in experiments and underwent multiple surgeries before being sold to different research facilities, both at eight years of age. Ishan, her third baby, died at the university laboratory at the age of 12. (Read more about Ishan, who spent his entire life in a laboratory.) Her fourth baby, Jack, suffered from diarrhea and infections before being sold to another research facility at the age of one.

A difficult life

In addition to her four pregnancies, Lilly was used in several experiments, underwent multiple surgeries, and had many health problems. Many, if not all, of her illnesses and infections were likely a direct result of being held in a laboratory and used in experiments.

Lilly suffered four instances of a collapsed uterus, two parasitic infections, one bacterial infection and chronic diarrhea. Following her final pregnancy, both of her ovaries, her uterus and her uterine tubes were removed. She also underwent surgery three times for the removal of experimentally placed implants.

During an exam to determine if she was healthy enough to be used in an experiment at age 12, Lilly was diagnosed with a severely curved spine and had trouble moving her right hip. Despite these diagnoses, she was approved for use in the experiment, which required surgery and two stays in intensive care.

Psychologically damaged

Over her sixteen-year stay at the university laboratory, Lilly was moved to a different cage 48 times, was handled by technicians 503 times and was in intensive care following surgery seven times for a total of 70 days.

It appears from records that no entertainment was provided to Lilly during the first 15 years of her life, which she spent in a barren cage, often alone. At age 15 a single toy began being rotated in and out of her cage.

The very act of being handled by humans is extremely stressful for monkeys—in addition to the added stress of being moved to an unfamiliar place. Monkeys are highly social, perceptive animals, so being housed alone can be psychologically devastating.

Born free?

In the wild, rhesus macaques are excellent climbers and swimmers. While interacting with other monkeys in their troop, macaques use a variety of facial expressions, vocalizations, and gestures to communicate. Sadly, Lilly was likely never able to swim, climb a tree, or interact with other macaques in a natural environment.

Approved for sale

At age 16, Lilly was examined to determine if she was healthy enough to be sold. Despite being used in invasive experiments for over a decade and having numerous health problems, at age 16 she was approved for sale and sent to a medical school to be used in further experiments.

In 2010, more than 110,000 primates like Lilly 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.

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

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