PETA complaint over monkey’s death prompts state probe into UW

Oct 31, 2023, 1:13 PM | Updated: 5:34 pm

uw Primate Research Center...

A research monkey at UW's WaNPRC. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

The Washington State Department of Health’s Veterinary Board of Governors has opened an investigation into the University of Washington (UW) following the death of a primate under the school’s primate research center (WaNPRC).

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claimed the monkey, an eight-year-old male rhesus macaque, died due to a “botched procedure.” In captivity, rhesus macaques live approximately 25 years, according to the National Institute of Health, with a maximum recorded lifespan of 40 years.

PETA reported the monkey’s death on Aug. 7.

“The apparent failure of UW veterinarians to have in place standard operating procedures (SOP) for anesthesia induction, monitoring, training and supervision of technicians resulted in fatal barotrauma for this monkey,” PETA wrote in its report. “We urge you to investigate this matter with the same rigor that you would at a small veterinary clinic and issue fines if you determine wrongdoing.”

More on this case: Primate for UW studies dies in program’s care, inspection found

An unannounced inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) between Sept. 12-14 found the primate’s death was one of four non-compliant items within WaNPRC.

“Staffers sedated an 8-year-old male rhesus macaque for a procedure to remove dead tissue accumulating around a metal device implanted in his skull,” PETA continued in its report. “When the monkey showed signs of trouble, there was no veterinarian available nor was appropriate emergency equipment nearby,” according to the report.

According to PETA’s report and the USDA’s ensuing investigation, a UW staffer retrieved a donated portable anesthesia machine, but the machine was faulty and caused a traumatic pressure injury to the monkey’s lungs, “essentially blowing them up like balloons.” The monkey went into cardiac arrest and died, the report read.

PETA is claiming the university downplayed both the severity of the incident and the latest raft of USDA citations in its published statement, a sentiment UW thoroughly disagrees with.

“As is painfully common for monkeys subjected to neuro-experimentation, this macaque’s skull implant became infected, requiring aggressive treatment, and he was apparently killed by unprepared staff who didn’t know what they were doing,” PETA primate scientist Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel said in the statement. “PETA is grateful to state officials for taking this monkey’s death — and the apparent incompetence of UW staff — seriously.”

“Contrary to PETA’s claim, the UW does not minimize or downplay an incident such as this,” UW spokesperson Victor Balta told MyNorthwest.Veterinary staff were performing the procedure and the machine malfunctioned despite following all procedures. UW veterinarians and staff responded immediately by doing a thorough investigation and establishing an action plan to prevent further occurrences. This action plan has already been validated and confirmed via follow up communications with OLAW, AAALAC, and during our recent USDA visit.”

Further transgressions within WaNPRC were revealed in USDA’s investigation, including the discovery that another monkey that underwent skull surgery also sustained brain damage when a UW staffer left the room to take a phone call. An unskilled trainee was left alone in the room and botched the procedure, piercing the monkey’s brain and causing noticeable neurological damage.

Other citations include subjecting a monkey to two surgeries when only one was approved, subjecting 16 rabbits to a combination of unapproved procedures and 18 squirrels to unapproved surgeries, leading to complications for six of them. USDA’s report also found staffers failed to give the program’s monkeys a daily water ration.

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“PETA has previously exposed that UW experimenters have left needles, gauze and other surgical equipment inside monkeys’ bodies,” Tasgola Bruner, the media manager for the Laboratory Investigations Department & Regulatory Testing Division at PETA, told MyNorthwest. “That infant monkeys have died from undiagnosed diseases and malnourishment, and that days-old monkeys have been mutilated and killed by other caged and stressed primates, among other horrors.”

MyNorthwest reached out to UW for comment, with the university issuing the following statement.

“PETA continues to misrepresent its role in ‘exposing’ these incidents when the truth is that UW administrators report these themselves in public meetings and to the appropriate agencies — and these reports are available to the public and posted to the UW’s own website,” Balta stated. “The UW takes the welfare of the animals in our care very seriously and is transparent in reporting any adverse events that may occur.”

UW has a history of reported animal negligence, with another USDA report in 2017 stating that among UW’s Washington National Primate Research Center’s 667 primates used in research, nearly 300 of them were subjected to pain or distress, including the use of anesthetics and other drugs.

Nine dogs, 168 rabbits, seven sheep and 174 pigs were also subjected to similar pain and distress, the report stated.

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