A Barrel of Monkey Business
This article was written in memory of the primates used in the Bion experiments and in memory of the Silver Spring Monkeys.
Each year in the United States, an estimated 70 million animals are maimed, blinded, scalded, force-fed chemicals, genetically manipulated, and otherwise hurt and killed in the name of science, by private institutions, household product and cosmetics companies, government agencies, educational institutions, and scientific centers — each assuring us that its “experimental subjects” are humanely treated and that there is a fundamental need for the experiments. They are lying.
Here is the truth about monkeys used in research laboratories: in the testing lab, primates — including our closest biological relatives, the chimpanzees — are “containerized” for days or weeks in restraint devices or for years in isolation chambers. Often, the animals cannot move their arms or legs and are hooked up to electrodes that record brain or muscle activity or deliver foot shocks for “misbehaviors.” Animals are restrained for days in stereotaxic chairs to avoid the experimenter’s inconvenience of having to handle them for procedures as simple as blood withdrawal. Imagine spending several years in a shower stall, on a rack over your own waste, and you’ve got the picture.
Decades of repetitive experiments on “maternal deprivation” continue despite obvious findings in a variety of tests. Removed from their mother’s protection, baby monkeys are exposed to deliberately frightening situations, like the introduction of natural enemies like snakes, or electric shocks, so experimenters can observe their psychological breakdown. Primates develop stereotypical behaviors including incessant rocking and self-mutilation. Chimpanzees are highly active and very socially-oriented. When kept isolated in laboratories with no regular physical contact with either humans or other chimps, they quickly become psychotic. Primates at federally-funded laboratories have been found dead in their cages from dehydration when their feet got stuck in the cage bars and they were unable to reach water.
Chimpanzees inside SEMA, a federally-funded laboratory located in Silver Spring, Maryland, went insane after spending years in isolation chambers that allowed nothing but the continual hum of the air filtration system to reach them. After viewing a tape made by animal rights activists (now called Breaking Barriers and available through PETA), Dr. Jane Goodall, the foremost authority on chimps, visited SEMA in March 1987. Here is what she said: “Even the repeated viewing of the video did not prepare me for the stark reality of that laboratory. I was ushered by white-coated men who smiled nervously or glowered, into a nightmare world. Outside, everyday life went on as usual, with the sun and the trees and the birds. Inside, where no daylight had ever penetrated, it was dim and colorless. I looked into room after room lined with small, bare cages, stacked one above the other. I watched as monkeys paced around their tiny prisons, making bizarre abnormal movements… chimp babies peered out from the semi-darkness of their tiny cells… I am still haunted by their eyes, and the eyes of the other chimps I saw that day. They were dull and blank, like the eyes of people who have lost all hope…” In a notarized statement, she declared conditions at SEMA to be “totally unacceptable.” (from Visions of Caliban by Dr. Jane Goodall)
Conscious baboons at the University of Pennsylvania were tormented and mocked by researchers after being disabled by blows to their heads. Following an expose by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 1985, USDA inspectors found 74 violations of minimal care standards. Here, vivisectors smashed primates’ heads in simulated car crash tests. Baboons’ heads were cemented into metal helmets connected to a hydraulic device which thrusted their heads at 60 degree angles with a force of 1,000 gravities. A video of the experimenters was stolen (now called Unnecessary Fuss — what one of the vivisectors said about the protests after PETA aired the video). In this tape, an experimenter said, “you’d better hope the anti-vivisection people don’t get this film,” which showed an experiment on a primate in progress with the animal taped to the exam table. Penn was found guilty of failing to perform sterile surgery — one person was smoking, instruments that had been dropped on the floor were picked up and used inside the animals’ head, and proper surgical dress was not enforced. After seeing the tape, 16 United States representatives wrote to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and said they should no longer get funding due to terrible conditions.
The Animal Welfare Act, which was enacted in 1965 and been amended three times since, covers a very small fraction of animals experimented on in the U.S. (Animal Liberation, Peter Singer.)
The Animal Welfare Act is the federal law governing the humane care, handling, treatment and transportation of animals used in labs. It does not, however, prohibit any experiment, no matter how painful or useless. The act also covers dealers who sell animals to labs. There are no regulations whatsoever that specifically govern the conduct of an experiment or what the animals will be forced to endure during an experiment. For example, the Act allows the withholding of anesthesia whenever “scientifically necessary,” which means that if an experimenter thinks anesthesia will interfere with the results of the experiment, then the animal is not given any, no matter how painful the test will be. Basically, all the Act does is state that a cage must be large enough for an animal to make “normal postural adjustments,” which vary from species to species. Adult primates may still be confined to cages that allow them only enough space to stand upright and lie down. In most labs, no effort is made to allow touching, social grooming, or other social contact vital to primates, and rarely are any objects or amusements provided to help pass the time of our intelligent relatives in the animal kingdom. (If you believe you have witnessed violations of the AWA, please write to the Deputy Administrator, USDA, APHIS, REAC, Federal Building, 6505 Belcrest Rd., Rm. 208, Hyattsville, MD 20789.)
The U.S. Military inflicts the pains of war on hundreds of thousands of animals each year in experiments. The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Veterans Administration (VA) together are the federal government’s second largest user of animals (after the National Institutes of Health). They account for nearly half the estimated minimum of 1.6 million dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, primates, rats, mice, and “wild animals” used. Other use of animals in military experiments is suspected, but such information is kept secret and is hard to verify.
At the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Maryland, nine rhesus monkeys were strapped in chairs and exposed to total-body irradiation experiments, which are classified as among the most painful types of animal research. The animals suffer from internal bleeding, violent nausea, severe dehydration, starvation, pneumonia, liver and kidney failure, and the deliberate injuries that their “caretakers” inflict on them. Within two hours, six of the nine were vomiting, hypersalivating, and chewing. At Brooks Air Force Base in Texas, rhesus monkeys were strapped to a B-52 flight simulator. After being prodded with painful electric shocks to learn to “fly” the device, the monkeys were irradiated with gamma rays to see if they could hold out “for the 10 hours it would take to bomb an imaginary Moscow.” Those hit with the heaviest doses vomited violently and became extremely lethargic before dying. To evaluate the effect of temperature on the transmission of the Dengue 2 virus, a mosquito-transmitted disease that causes fever, muscle pain, and rash, experiments conducted by the U.S. Army at Fort Detrick, MD, involved shaving the stomachs of adult rhesus monkeys and then attaching cartons of mosquitoes to their bodies to allow the mosquitoes to feed.
Many laboratory libraries contain evidence that painful experiments have been repeated over and over on animals for decades. For example, from 1975 through 1982, more than 38,000 experiments, all dealing with cancer caused by radiation, were conducted on animals.
NASA’s $33.2 million joint U.S./French/Russian Bion 11 and 12 experiments force monkeys to suffer through agonizing, invasive procedures. Fourteen electrode wires sunk into seven muscles in the monkeys’ arms and legs tunnel under their skin and exit from a hole carved in their backs. More electrodes are inserted into the monkeys’ brains — their exposed skulls are covered with metal caps and eight holes are drilled into their skulls to accommodate a plastic “halo” so they cannot move their heads. Wires from a surgically buried thermometer in each animal’s abdomen exit yet another hole cut in their backs. Many monkeys have mutilated themselves trying to rip the wires out from under their skin, despite the fact that NASA experimenters bind the animals in straitjackets. After undergoing these painful surgeries, the monkeys are blasted into space for 14 days. During the two-week orbit, the monkeys are completely restrained, obtaining food from a “sipper tube.” NASA claimed the Bion experiments would help study the effects of weightlessness on human astronauts, yet NASA already has data on human beings who have spent more than 400 days in space at one time. NASA launched the monkeys in an antiquated Russian capsule not even equipped to properly record data. If something went wrong in space, there was no one to help the monkeys. The instrumented monkeys were launched from Russia on Christmas Eve 1996. They landed in freezing temperatures in Kazakhstan on January 7, 1997. One day later, Multik, one of the Bion monkeys, died before he could be subjected to further experiments.
A February 1996 Bion Science Assessment Report criticized the project for its lack of “scientific leadership” and its failure to consider less cruel methods for obtaining data and cited many other examples of Bion’s scientific failings, including repetitive and irrelevant tests. Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of animal rights activists, on April 22, 1997, NASA formally announced the end of its involvement in the cruel Bion project.
Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, probably more so than human-based tests are able to measure. They make and use tools, cooperate with and learn from each other, and can learn various forms of expression and communication, including American Sign Language and computer symbols. Chimpanzees also have good memories. However, fewer than 250,000 chimpanzees still exist in western and central Africa. Chimpanzee habitats, already small and isolated, are being further destroyed by increased commercial and agricultural development. Both species of African chimpanzee are considered endangered. Though the U.S. Department of the Interior also lists them as endangered, there are approximately 2,000 captive chimpanzees in the United States. About 300 are in zoos; the remaining 1,700 were bred for medical research. Many are the offspring of chimpanzees captured in the wild before 1973, when the United States agreed to abide by an international treaty prohibiting the capture and import of wild chimpanzees. Unwanted chimpanzees from zoos and circuses are sometimes sold to laboratories. Chimpanzees are still captured in the wild by poachers who shoot chimpanzee mothers and then take their infants, but many of those baby chimpanzees die before they reach a laboratory. Because adults protect the infants, several adults are sometimes killed to obtain one baby.
Chimpanzees are now popular subjects for AIDS research, although their immune system does not succumb to the virus. Chimpanzees are also used in painful cancer, hepatitis, and psychological tests, as well as for research into artificial insemination and birth control methods, blood diseases, organ transplants, and experimental surgery. Because they are in short supply, captive chimps are often subjected to multiple experiments, each of which can last an average of two to four years. Since adult chimpanzees are strong and often unmanageable, and infected chimpanzees cannot be placed in zoos or existing sanctuaries, many chimpanzees are killed before the age of 10. The normal lifespan of a chimpanzee is 40 to 50 years. Others, perhaps not as lucky, are kept in tiny cages for decades at such places as Buckshire Corp., a USDA-licensed animal dealer exposed by PETA in 1994 for housing 42 chimpanzees in substandard cages.
During the late 1980s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed its so-called “National Chimpanzee Management Plan.” This plan is, in reality, just a funding mechanism for five breeding colonies to maintain a steady supply of chimpanzees for vivisectors. Under a series of grants, the plan established breeding colonies of chimps at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta, the University of Texas, the Primate Foundation of Arizona in Tempe, the University of Southwestern Louisiana in New Iberia, and New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Alamogordo. In 1993, NMSU’s chimpanzee colony passed into the hands of the Coulston Foundation, a facility that now cages more than 500 chimpanzees. Coulston owner Frederick Coulston, refers to himself as the “father of toxicology” and promotes the use of other-than-human primates in archaic, painful toxicology tests. He refers to chimpanzees as “vicious, aggressive animals” and, in an interview with The Boston Globe, admitted to spraying chemicals into the open eyes of monkeys at Coulston, which gets most of its funding from NIH.
The Chimpanzee Management Plan (CMP) costs $1.5 million a year just to maintain the chimps, and many millions more to staff and operate. The initial budget request for CMP-related grants was rejected by Congress in 1986. CMP programs are now being funded by NIH with $4.5 million taken from the existing AIDS research budget.
Current CMP guidelines do not prohibit any potentially painful or psychologically damaging experiment from being performed on chimpanzees, nor do they establish minimum housing standards. The plan has no provision for retiring old or “worn out” chimps, nor does it require that infant chimps be raised by their mothers. Two-thirds of the chimps raised under the CMP are released to research projects. The rest are used for breeding.
The National Institutes of Health is now considering giving $3.3 million to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York to breed chimps who would be killed to provide hearts and other organs for human transplants. Each transplanted chimp heart would be used only until a human heart became available. No chimp-to-human heart transplant has yet been successful.
Using monkeys as surrogate humans is never good science; confinement is unnatural to the species, and the stress of capture, shipping, caging, and experimentation compromises their immune systems, and leads to psychological deterioration and neuroses, not to mention it’s incredibly cruel.
When news reports tally the casualties of war, or when monuments are erected to honor soldiers, the other-than-human victims of war — the animals whose bodies are shot, burned, poisoned, and otherwise tortured in tests to create even more ways to kill people — are never recognized, nor is their suffering well known. The 1987 movie Project X offered only a glimpse of the kind of experiments that go on far from public view but at taxpayer expense.
For more information or to become a “whistleblower” on animal cruelty, call PETA’s RIR department at 757-622-PETA, or e-mail at email@example.com
Or write to your representatives in Congress and ask they support any pending or future legislation that strengthens the USDA’s ability to enforce the AWA.
Jennifer Winston is a former employee of PETA, In Defense of Animals, the Wildlife Care Center, The Humane Society of Broward County, and The New England Anti-Vivisection Society. She is currently the host of an animal rights TV show, For the Animals.
Information for this article was provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510