The U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed a complaint against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s primate research center in New Iberia for alleged violations leading to the death of one primate, injuries to another and the escape of five primates from their housing within the facility.
The complaint, made public late Thursday, lays out six alleged violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act at the New Iberia Research Center from 2012 to 2014, each carrying a potential fine of up to $10,000.
The complaint also states that routine USDA inspection reports posted on the research center’s website did not include any of the reports in which the violations were noted.
UL-Lafayette Vice President for Research Ramesh Kolluru said in a written statement Friday that the USDA complaint is under review and the university is preparing a response to the federal agency.
“The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is committed to animal well-being and biomedical research that benefits animals and humans,” he said. “NIRC’s commitment to continuous improvement will enable us to respond to the complaint in a comprehensive manner.”
One of the six alleged violations is for failure to clean out dirt and debris in an enclosure for African green monkeys and another for the mishandling of a rhesus macaque that resulted in a fracture to the animal’s arm, plus a separate violation for failing to diagnose the fracture for five days.
Two of the alleged violations are related to the design of the enclosures used to house the animals: a flaw that allowed five capuchin monkeys to escape after they removed a latch on the door of their housing and another design defect that is believed to have resulted in the death of a macaque after its hand was trapped between one of the bars of the cage and another piece of equipment.
The complaint also alleges a violation for the approval of an animal research project without written verification that the “activities did not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments.”
SAEN, a national animal welfare group that has tracked complaints against the NIRC for several years, called for a harsh penalty.
“The negligent behavior of ULL staff which injured and killed monkeys deserves a major federal penalty,” SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie said in a written statement. “Taking into account the long history of negligence and incompetence at ULL, the USDA ought to throw the book at ULL.”
The university has paid $58,633 in penalties over the past eight years to settle prior complaints, according to USDA records.
The bulk of that — $38,571 — was paid in 2013 to settle a complaint in connection with the death of three rhesus macaques and the injury of a chimpanzee, according to the records.
The recent USDA complaint will be heard by a federal administrative law judge, barring a settlement or other resolution.
No hearing date has been set.