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Harvard: What’s Your Plan for Releasing Critically Endangered Species from Labs?
August 2, 2012

You might be surprised to learn that even critically endangered species aren’t safe from experiments. At Harvard University’s New England Primate Research Center, cotton-top tamarins were recently neglected and killed. So PCRM invoked the Endangered Species Act against Harvard. In response, Harvard says it will send the remaining tamarins to sanctuaries or wildlife refuges. But they didn't answer an important question: When?

We wrote to the interim director of the New England Primate Research Center and asked for a detailed plan for relocating the tamarins. So far, he has not responded.

In the following video, PCRM associate director of research policy Ryan Merkley tells you more about the situation. Then be sure to read PCRM’s letter of complaint to the New England Primate Research Center below.

You can also help us by asking Harvard to immediately announce a plan to release the cotton-top tamarins to sanctuaries or wildlife refuges.

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July 17, 2012

R. Paul Johnson, M.D.
Interim Director
New England Primate Research Center
P.O. Box 9102
One Pine Hill Dr.
Southborough, MA 01772

Sent by e-mail (

Dear Dr. Johnson:

As a Harvard graduate, I was very pleased to see Harvard’s recent statement reporting plans to release its approximately 167 cotton-top tamarins to sanctuaries and wildlife preserves. As you know, cotton-top tamarins are one of the most endangered primate species in the world, and they do not fare well in captivity. This is also the essential step to prevent future tamarin deaths at the New England Primate Research Center, such as the cage washer death in June 2010 and the dehydration death in February 2012.

Would you please release a more detailed explanation of your plan for relocating the tamarins? How many tamarins will be relocated, and where will they go? When are the transfers scheduled to occur? Will any tamarins remain at NEPRC or other Harvard facilities? My organization has ties to suitable sanctuaries, and I would be happy to contact them on your behalf if you have not already done so.

According to published scientific papers, cotton-top tamarins have been used at NEPRC in numerous studies of very dubious value. A 2006 study reported the modulation of tamarin communications in the presence of background noise. A 2008 report compared brain monoamine transporters in rhesus macaques and cotton-top tamarins, who were noted rather chillingly to have been "sacrificed for other purposes." Earlier this year, a comparative study of chimerism (only rarely observed in humans) in marmosets and cotton-top tamarins was reported, using tissue samples obtained "immediately postmortem from animals euthanized following unrelated procedures or in the course of normal end-of-life palliative care."

Years ago, the importation of cotton-top tamarins for laboratory experiments led to a sharp decline in wild populations, contributing to the current designation of cotton-top tamarins as a critically endangered species. Then, over the years, it appears that tamarins from your colony were used for fewer and fewer experiments, particularly after the resignation of disgraced tamarin researcher Marc Hauser, Ph.D. Now it is time to place the tamarins in sanctuaries – by the end of 2012 if possible – and to continue the shift towards human-focused research methods.

I am writing to you on behalf of our more than 10,000 physician members (including nearly 300 in Massachusetts), and approximately 140,000 other medical professionals, scientists, educators, and supporting members. Please let me know if there is anything I, or my organization, can do to help you move forward with your plans. Thank you for your consideration, and please contact me regarding my queries above.

John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.
Director of Academic Affairs
Chair, Physician Steering Committee
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
5100 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20016

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