Physicians Committee Persuades Harvard to Close Primate Facility
Following two years of pressure from the Physicians Committee and its members, Harvard University announced last week that it will close its primate experimentation facility where numerous monkeys have died and been seriously injured in recent years.
The closure will affect the 2,000 monkeys currently at the New England Primate Research Center in Southborough, Mass. The Physicians Committee will call on Harvard and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to retire those animals to sanctuaries rather than send them to other research facilities.
In September 2011, the Physicians Committee issued its report Animal Welfare Act Violations at Ivy League Universities, which detailed how a primate (later revealed to be a highly endangered cotton-top tamarin) was found dead in a cage at the Harvard facility after going through a machine that uses near-boiling water and caustic chemicals to wash cages.
Following the Physicians Committee’s report, other accounts of animal deaths and mistreatment continued to surface, including:
- A marmoset was found to have died after escaping, being captured, and then undergoing an imaging procedure. Physicians Committee’s sources from within the primate center claimed that the marmoset was traumatized during his capture and that he was hyperventilating and distressed when he was forced into the constricting imaging tube.
- A cotton-top tamarin died of dehydration as a result of not having a water bottle in his cage.
- A primate died after being overdosed with anesthetics.
The Physicians Committee took this evidence of animal cruelty to the United States Department of Agriculture and NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and called on the agencies to investigate Harvard.
The Physicians Committee also charged Harvard with violating the federal Endangered Species Act by negligently harming and killing cotton-top tamarins in a complaint filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in July 2012. Harvard responded by claiming that it would relocate its nearly 170 tamarins—critically endangered monkeys native to Colombia—to “other institutions, such as wildlife preserves or sanctuaries.” The complaint is still pending.
The Physicians Committee is still urging Harvard to retire its tamarins, and pushing the school and NIH to do the same with all 2,000 primates.