Seattle, Wash., February 4, 2022 – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has launched a formal investigation into the University of Washington’s Primate Research Center after the Arizona Republic revealed diseased monkeys were sent to Seattle and across the country, potentially compromising tens of millions of dollars in research aimed at finding cures and vaccines for AIDS, HIV, hepatitis, Zika, Ebola and even COVID-19.
Arizona Republic’s seven-month investigation, which inspired the federal investigation, found that the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) violated animal health and import regulations, operated its Arizona breeding facility without state oversight, failed to prevent the introduction and spread of deadly diseases among monkeys, and has been repeatedly cited for multiple violations of animal welfare laws.
The disease in reference is Valley Fever, a common flu-like disease caused by a fungus in the soil around the Phoenix area, leading many to question the location of one of the United States’ largest breeding facilities for pigtail macaques. At least 47 macaques have died from this illness within the last eight years, the Arizona Republic reported.
In addition, monkeys at the UW facility in Mesa are drinking well water tainted with perchlorate, a contaminant leached from ponds containing rocket fuel runoff from an adjacent defense contractor, despite recommendations in 2016 that a water treatment system be installed at the breeding facility.
The federally funded WaNPRC has had a history of negligence resulting in the deaths of thousands of monkeys within the facility.
In one recent eight-month period, the federally funded center, including its breeding center in Mesa, Arizona, treated 332 traumatic injuries, more than 200 gastrointestinal problems, 149 cases of significant weight loss, 19 cases of rectal prolapse, and a dozen implant abnormalities.
Within the last few years, federal inspection reports reveal violations of federal law, negligence, and failure of oversight resulting in the deaths of thousands of monkeys within the facility.
In 2019 an experimenter at the facility insisted a surgery be proceeded on a monkey that had not been properly fasted the night before, resulting in the monkey entering respiratory arrest and dying.
In that same year, a monkey undergoing a painful procedure was given a diluted opioid analgesic resulting in inadequate pain relief. Through an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was found that the medicine cabinet had been left open and the opioid had appeared to be stolen.
In 2018 a pigtail macaque was strangled to death when he became entangled in a chain attached to his cage.
In 2016 a monkey died while undergoing an MRI, but the cause of death could not be determined because the facility failed to maintain appropriate records. In less than a month later, an eight-year-old pigtail macaque died from dehydration when her watering line had not been properly fastened to her cage. The report found that the animal did not have water for at least 48-72 hours.
In 2015 three monkeys died due to significant health issues as a result of medical documents that were not adequately filled out.
In three separate incidents in 2013, baby pig-tailed macaques were attacked and sustained extensive traumatic injuries, and either died or were euthanized.
In 2011 the USDA fined the UW $11,000 after a pig-tailed macaque was found dead in her cage having lost over 25% of her body weight. She starved to death.
In 2008 the UW was fined $20,000 for conducting unauthorized surgeries.
According to the Office of Animal Welfare at UW, only three incidents of non-compliance were reported to the USDA for 2021 at the Seattle facility – all were in January. Rabbits did not receive the required daily checks, a nonhuman primate was left in a trapping run for at least 12 hours without access to food or water, and two nonhuman primates escaped their cages and were treated for injuries.
“Even the most cursory investigation reveals that there’s something rotten at the WaNPRC, and science and the monkeys are suffering because of it,”says PETA primate scientist and former WaNPRC researcher Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel. “PETA is calling on feds to stop funding this laboratory and its breeding facility. It is time to end the animal suffering and embark on a new era of scientific rigor.”
Destroying Public Information
During the ongoing federal investigation, in an open records lawsuit against the University of Washington, animal activist group PETA found that the WaNPRC routinely destroys videotapes and photographs of controversial and secretive monkey experiments protected by the Public Records Act.
The judge in the case stated, “The lack of any policy/system which identified videos/photos which are being destroyed prevents [UW] from complying with the requirements of the [Public Records Act].”
The former director of the primate lab and experimenters there described, in an under-oath admission, routinely deleting data, which is a violation of both the Public Records Act and the center’s responsibility to retain records as recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-supported funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“The WaNPRC is a threat to public health and appears to be hiding torture and incompetence. NIH and UW must act to shut down this facility immediately,” Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President for PETA, offered the Lynnwood Times in a formal statement.
The King County Superior Court is holding the University of Washington’s Primate Research Center liable for intentionally destroying public records.