Violations and Negligence: Southwest National Primate Research Center

The Physicians Committee

Violations and Negligence: Southwest National Primate Research Center

Southwest National Primate Research Center’s History of Animal Abuse

The National Institutes of Health plans to transfer nearly 200 federally owned chimpanzees from a nonresearch facility in Alamogordo, N.M., to Southwest National Primate Research Center in Texas. What do these chimpanzees face if this plan is enacted?

Violations Lead to Inhumane and Unreliable Research

Since July 2006, the Southwest National Primate Research Center has been cited for at least 30 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. It has been responsible for egregious acts of negligence, including the following:

  • Researchers attempted to do a necropsy (an autopsy on animals) on a baboon who was still alive.
  • A rhesus macaque escaped his enclosure due to inadequate housing. The animal was found the next day suffering from what appeared to be hypothermia and was euthanized.
  • Employees were injured when baboons escaped while being moved.

The excerpt below is from PCRM’s federal complaint filed with Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services. The complaint asks for the chimpanzees to remain in Alamogordo and cites a few of Southwest’s many failures to adhere to minimal animal welfare standards.

"On Aug. 28, 2006, Southwest staff was 10 minutes into a necropsy of a male baboon before discovering that the animal was still alive. This incident highlights the widespread lack of proper animal care at a facility that currently houses more than 3,000 nonhuman primates. Not only did staff fail to identify whether the baboon was dead before beginning the necropsy, but the committee charged with overseeing all aspects of animal care at Southwest—the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)— failed to report the incident to facility administrators. In addition, according to a USDA inspector, ‘there was no further investigation into the incident by the IACUC.’

"Further bringing into question the IACUC’s ability to maintain minimum standards of oversight at Southwest is its attitude when examining research protocols and requiring that they adhere to the AWA. On July 13, 2006, a USDA inspector discovered that a researcher planned to perform multiple cesarean sections on the same animal without any justification given to the USDA—the minimum standard required by the AWA when performing multiple survival surgeries on the same animal. The inspector ordered that this be corrected within one month, but when she returned more than four months later she discovered that no such justification had been sent. The USDA did not receive a written letter until February 2007—seven months after the original violation was cited.

"Meanwhile, the Southwest IACUC allowed the protocol to continue.

"More recently, in February 2010, a USDA inspector cited Southwest for inadequate housing that allowed a young rhesus macaque to escape his enclosure at night when temperatures were below freezing. The following morning, the animal was found “moribund” and was euthanized likely due to the results of hypothermia. The USDA’s most recent inspection of Southwest on May 13, 2010, revealed that multiple baboons had recently escaped their enclosures while being moved, injuring employees.

"The Southwest track record of hazardous animal husbandry standards, inability to meet even the most basic requirements of the AWA, and its IACUC’s lack of oversight make it a dangerous place to house APF chimpanzees. Because Southwest cannot properly care for the animals it currently houses, it would be irresponsible of NCRR to give the facility 186 more great apes."