Doctors Invoke Endangered Species Act Against Harvard Lab That Killed Primates
Two Cotton-Top Tamarins Died After Gross Neglect; Complaint Demands Sanctuary for 167 Tamarins Who Remain at Facility
WASHINGTON—Doctors with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have invoked the Endangered Species Act against a Harvard laboratory that neglected and killed two cotton-top tamarins, a critically endangered primate species. The complaint filed on July 12 by the doctors group points to a history of primate injuries and deaths at Harvard Medical School’s New England Primate Research Center, and calls for retiring the approximately 167 remaining cotton-top tamarins to sanctuaries.
PCRM will file the Petition for Enforcement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issues permits involving endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. According to the federal agency, Harvard does not have any active permits that allow it to harm or kill cotton-top tamarins in experiments.
In February 2012, laboratory personnel found a cotton-top tamarin exhibiting “unusual behavior,” according to a federal inspection report. There was no water bottle in the cage, and the tamarin was so severely dehydrated that the attending veterinarian decided to euthanize him.
In June 2010, a cotton-top tamarin at the New England Primate Research Center was sent through a cage washer and found dead in the cage after the cycle. The complaint points out that scalding, high-pressure water and harsh chemicals are used during the typical 15- to 20-minute wash cycle, and the monkey, if alive when he entered the washer, would have sustained high-pressure third-degree burns on his entire body before dying.
“How could someone not notice a monkey in a cage before loading the cage into a washer?” says John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., the PCRM physician and Harvard graduate who submitted the petition. “Harvard administrators claim that the primate facility has improved standards, but monkeys continue to suffer in captivity and die painful deaths. We believe there is a serious ongoing risk for tamarins and all primates at the laboratory.”
Harvard is already being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for several violations of the Animal Welfare Act. At least six other primate deaths and several injuries have occurred at Harvard-affiliated facilities in the past two years. The federal government has sent Harvard an official warning notifying the school that it is in violation of animal welfare regulations.
PCRM’s petition requests that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigate and penalize Harvard for violations of the Endangered Species Act and retire all of the approximately 167 cotton-top tamarins to sanctuaries that provide them with a safe, stress-free environment. Tamarins in laboratory environments have been found to suffer from numerous health conditions, including stress-induced colitis, which subsides when they are returned to more natural environments. PCRM’s petition states:
“By subjecting cotton-top tamarins to stress, illness, and premature death in laboratory captivity, NEPRC perpetually harms them. This harm, which constitutes an illegal take under the Endangered Species Act, is a very serious violation.”
It is estimated that only 6,000 cotton-top tamarins remain in the wild.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.