Animal activists filed a complaint against the Oregon National Primate Research Center Tuesday.
An unidentified investigator with PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- worked at the OHSU facility for four months, secretly taking notes and shooting video.
PETA says the conditions were miserable, abusive and illegal.
The primate center says there was no such abuse and it can document an excellent record of animal care while the undercover investigator was present. Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.
This April, a member of the animal rights group PETA, got a job as an husbandry technician at the primate center.
To get the position, she had to answer the question: Should animals be used for medical research? She also has to pass a criminal background check. Her notes and video footage have been used to make a short web film.
Commentator: “Employees spray high pressure hoses directly into the cages without removing the monkeys. Many animals become soaked and are visibly upset. This violates federal law, which requires that monkeys be moved during cage cleaning, unless the cage is large enough to allow escape.”
The commentator goes on to say the sound was measured at about 100 decibels. She also says monkeys are stressed by “crude, rodeo-style capture” methods.
Commentator: “Monkeys are so traumatized that their rectums have pushed outside their bodies. Here, you see blood from a rectal prolapse, smeared in the cage walls and a visible prolapse.”
The director of research for PETA, Kathy Guillermo, says the group has filed a complaint with the USDA saying the center routinely violates the Animal Welfare Act.
Kathy Guillermo: “We are alleging that the primate center has failed to maintain a program of adequate veterinary care, that they’re failing to handle animals in a way that doesn’t cause trauma. That they’re failing to ensure that their personnel are qualified to conduct the kind of procedures that they’re performing.”
But Guillermo concedes PETA isn’t just trying to ‘clean-up’ the research center. It wants to completely stop the use of animals in medical testing -- including the work on fertility, immunity and HIV-AIDS that’s currently being conducted.
Kathy Guillermo: “All I can say is look at the history of HIV experimentation. We have a quarter century of failed experiments on animals. And the leading AIDS researchers in the national are saying it will only be when we can work in human beings, and epidemiological and clinical studies that we will find a vaccine for AIDS. It’s been a wasted effort and wasted monkey lives and wasted human lives.”
But not every AIDS researcher feels that way. Indeed, scientists at the Oregon primate center say they’ve found that an important component of the immune system damaged by AIDS, can possibly be replaced -- suggesting a completely new treatment for the disease.
Gwen McGuiness, the attending vet at the center, was asked about her reaction to the PETA claims.
Gwen McGuiness: “I think my most sincere reaction is: ‘Oh No, here we go again!’ They kind of came after us seven years ago, and all those allegations were proven to be false and here they are again with a story that’s really not that different to the first time they came after us.”
In answer to the claim that monkey’s can’t get away from water being sprayed into their cages, McGuiness says, it’s just not true.
Gwen McGuiness: “The cages do provide enough room. The animals actually do jump up to the top of the cage, or they’ll sit on the perches that are built into the cages to avoid the water spray.”
She says that after they learned about the PETA complaint, they measured the spraying sound and found it was well below the 100 decibels that the animals themselves make while calling each other.
McGuiness says the rectal prolapses outlined by the PETA film do occur. And are associated with stress. But she says, it’s natural and the condition usually repairs itself within about 30 minutes.
Gwen McGuiness: “We see it occur out in our large social groups, without any human interaction. You can definitely presume that it would happen out in the wild, through normal social, stressful interactions.”
Chris Coleman, oversees the behavioral sciences unit for the center, and says prolapses happen when monkeys are living in groups -- and being trained to be captured.
Chris Coleman: “So they have to be trained to live in that group in a way that we can properly clean their cages and remove them from the enclosure so that we can wash it down. There is this period where we have to capture them. It’s usually very short, until they learn to come into the tunnels, but that allows them to stay in the social group that is so important to them.”
This is the second time PETA has gone undercover at the primate center. In the first complaint, the USDA found no violation of the Animal Welfare Act – although it did recommend a few changes for about one thousand monkeys kept indoors.
USDA regulators have inspected the center three times since February – each time finding the facility fully compliant with the law.
The agency will now review this latest PETA claim.