An Ohio-based animal rights organization is again calling for federal fines to be levied against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette after five infant monkeys died at the school’s New Iberia Research Center in July, following similar deaths last year.
Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, sent a complaint letter Thursday to Robert Gibbens, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal welfare operations director, after the USDA released an inspection report detailing how five infant rhesus macaque monkeys perished or were euthanized at the New Iberia Research Center after becoming dehydrated.
“It is simply unconscionable that ULL staff is incapable of effectively monitoring primates, noticing issues only when animals are either dead, or unresponsive,” Budkie wrote.
An Ohio-based animal rights organization has accused a University of Louisiana at Lafayette research facility of breaking federal law and comm…
The SAEN executive called for a full USDA investigation into the deaths, noting three additional heat-related monkey deaths in August 2020 his organization filed a complaint over, and requested the facility be fined $10,000 per animal, per infraction.
A university statement said the New Iberia Research Center follows the policies of oversight agencies and officials promptly reported the deaths to the USDA when they occurred.
“The University of Louisiana at Lafayette and its staff members are diligent in the care provided to animals at the New Iberia Research Center. The center follows rules and guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies,” university spokesperson Eric Maron said in a statement.
The statement was nearly identical to the university’s response to SAEN’s January complaint.
The New Iberia Research Center is the nation’s largest academically affiliated, nonhuman primate research center with more than 8,500 nonhuman primates at the center’s 118-acre facility in New Iberia. The center participated in clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the university said in a February release, and at the time was participating in eight vaccine and therapeutic drug studies related to the virus.
Trials involving primates at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center were instrumental in development of the Pfi…
On Aug. 26, a USDA inspector completed a focused inspection at the center assessing the monkey deaths. The incident was marked as a “critical” noncompliance incident because it resulted in the deaths of the animals, per the USDA’s animal welfare inspection guide.
The inspector wrote that on July 19, an unresponsive infant rhesus macaque was showing signs of dehydration and was euthanized after receiving a poor prognosis. Facility staff observed the remaining monkeys in that housing space twice that morning and saw no signs of dehydration among the other monkeys.
On July 20, two infant rhesus macaque monkeys were found dead, two more were unresponsive and a fifth was dehydrated but responsive. After treatment, one recovered and the other two infant monkeys were euthanized. Staff determined water pressure to the monkeys' housing was sufficient Monday but dropped Tuesday, later discovering the pressure regulator serving the building was not working.
“The housing facility must provide reliable running potable water for a nonhuman primates’ drinking needs to prevent dehydration,” the inspector wrote.
The inspector said in the month since the deaths the facility took corrective action to ensure water supply, including daily manual checks, keeping records on water pressure, monitoring the water flow, evaluating the water system for weak points and implementing an automated pressure monitoring and alarm system.
They also added more high-water content supplements to the monkeys’ diets and implemented twice daily checks on infant monkeys, the inspector wrote.
This is the second time this year SAEN has filed a complaint against UL Lafayette following primate deaths at the New Iberia Research Center.
In January, Budkie filed a federal complaint with Gibbens and the USDA after acquiring a copy of a letter from New Iberia Research Center Director Francois Villinger to a National Institute of Health administrator detailing the deaths of three adult rhesus macaque monkeys from heat stroke on Aug. 5, 2020 and the center’s response.
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Budkie accused the center’s staff of “sheer negligence” in failing to protect the animals and called for fines of $10,000 per animal, per infraction, the same penalty called for in Thursday’s letter.
“The monkey death toll at ULL continues to climb,” Budkie said in a statement. “I am appalled that ULL negligence allowed these monkeys to die unnecessarily. All of these deaths were preventable.”
The animal welfare nonprofit said in its statement UL Lafayette has a “history of breaking federal law” and has paid four monetary fines since 2007 for policy violations, including a $100,000 fine in 2017.