UPDATE 10:25 am: We just heard from UH Spokeswoman Shawn Lindsey, who tells us in an email that "The staff and the leadership of the University of Houston care deeply about animals and strive to create a humane setting for all animals. This accident serves as a reminder of the diligence required to promote the respect and compassion needed to ensure the safety and care of all animals....The loss of this animal was a great loss to our program and a personal loss to the Animal Care Operations staff who take great pride for these animals. We take the USDA warning very seriously and have invited delegates of the USDA back to the University to re-inspect our animal facility."
The USDA has warned the University of Houston that it could face severe penalties if it doesn't correct conditions in its research lab, where two rhesus monkeys have died since 2012.
The August letter was triggered by a March 2014 incident where three rhesus macaques closed a divider in their cage, cutting themselves off from the enclosure's water supply. One monkey died and two were treated for clinical dehydration.
The inspection report of that incident states that, although there was a watering device in the upper level of the cage where the monkeys were trapped, the animals disconnected the hoses supplying water to the device.
"Potentially, the animals may have been without water for up to 15 1/2 hours," the report states. It also notes that "the facility has taken corrective measures that include discontinuing use if extended length water hoses."
The University could face fines of up to $10,000 for any future violations of the Animal Welfare Act, according to the USDA's warning letter.
In September 2012, a two-week old male rhesus "was found dead with a laundry bag cord wrapped around its neck," according to a USDA inspection report. "Three empty laundry bags had been placed on top of a hamper and were within reach of the monkey."
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UH Vice Chancellor Rathindra Bose acknowledged both incidents in a reply letter to the USDA, stating that "I, our investigators, and our animal care and use team take your concerns and warning letter very seriously."
Bose also wrote that, in both deaths, "immediate short-term, as well as long-term, corrective actions were put in place to ensure that such incidents are prevented in the future."
The lab had 15 rhesus macaques as of a June routine inspection, down from 34 in February, and 79 in November, according to USDA records.
We reached out to a University spokesperson for comment and will update if we hear back.