March 4, 2009
Undercover Investigation Reveals Cruelty to Chimps at Research Lab
A nine-month undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has pulled back the curtain on the secretive, federally-funded New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) in Louisiana, revealing routine and unlawful mistreatment of hundreds of chimpanzees and other primates.
The investigation of New Iberia Research Center is the most comprehensive ever at any major primate research facility and has resulted in a 108-page complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), alleging a minimum of 338 possible violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act at the center. The law sets minimal standards for the treatment of animals in labs.
The HSUS' videotape evidence shows severe distress of primates in isolation: they engage in self-mutilation by tearing gaping wounds into their arms and legs, a behavior that could be the result of NIRC's failure to provide adequate environmental enhancement.
Routine procedures, such as the use of powerful and painful dart guns and frightening squeeze cages for sedation, are shown causing acute psychological distress to chimpanzees and monkeys.
Infant monkeys scream as they are forcibly removed from their mothers so that tubes can be forced down their throats.
Altogether, the investigation reveals animals forced to endure anxiety and misery behind the razor wire of the research facility.
Irresponsible and Inhumane
"These experiments come at an enormous short-term and long-term expense to taxpayers, and an even greater expense in suffering and anguish to chimpanzees and other primates forced to live in this pitiful laboratory," said Wayne Pacelle, The HSUS' president and CEO.
"Our investigation found an abject failure on NIRC's part to attend to the psychological well-being of primates as dictated by law, a lax USDA attitude about enforcing that law, and a knowing and gross violation of the federal government's pledge to stop breeding more chimpanzees for research."
NIRC cages about 6,000 monkeys and 325 chimpanzees on its 100 acres, but in the span of nine months, The HSUS' investigator saw only about 20 of the chimpanzees used in active studies. The majority of chimpanzees at the facility appeared to be warehoused or used for breeding – two activities that cost American taxpayers millions of dollars, even at a time of fiscal crisis and when no other developed nation uses chimpanzees in experiments.
Chimpanzees Held Captive
Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace said, "In no lab I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in their squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying."
One of the chimpanzees at the facility—Karen—was taken from the wild and has been housed in a primarily barren laboratory setting since 1958, when Dwight Eisenhower was president.
The HSUS is calling for her to be released to a sanctuary—along with many other elderly chimps who were taken from the wild decades ago. Another chimpanzee—28-year-old Siafu—attempted to communicate with center staff by "signing."
Chimpanzee expert Roger Fouts believes Siafu's frustrated, repetitive movements were crude begging gestures, based on his viewing of the HSUS tape.
Federal Government Failings
In addition to The HSUS' 108-page complaint filed with the USDA, in part revealing the agency's lax enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act at NIRC, the group is calling on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to stop its practice of paying the laboratory millions of dollars to produce infant chimpanzees despite the agency's explicit policy against funding chimpanzee breeding.
"This shows an appalling lack of attention by federal regulators and laboratory managers to their responsibilities," said Martin Stephens, Ph.D., The HSUS' vice president for Animal Research Issues.. "The only people who support continued breeding of chimpanzees are those who benefit from bilking the U.S. taxpayer."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues a 20-year-old policy that allows captive chimps to be used in invasive research, due to a highly unusual "split listing" under the federal Endangered Species Act.
In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed chimps as "endangered" in the wild, but merely "threatened" in captivity, and specifically authorized the continued use of chimps in captivity for biomedical research, the pet trade and roadside zoos.
All chimps should be consistently listed as "endangered," and thus only used in captivity for purposes that benefit the conservation of the species. No use of the chimps at NIRC could possibly be considered useful for that purpose.