The USDA has accused a provider of research monkeys in southeast Texas of violating animal welfare laws, saying 38 monkeys have died of thirst, suffocation and other harms since 2010.
Filed in late September, the government's complaint describes SNBL USA in Alice as a veritable house of horrors where macaques that are bred in the facility or imported from Cambodia are denied adequate veterinary care while at the same time helping the company gross nearly $10 million in the last two years. (The company sold more than 2,800 monkeys over that time.)
The company, which is based in Everett, Washington, has paid civil penalties in the past, according to the suit, which claims that SNBL "has failed to meet the minimum requirements" of the Animal Welfare Act.
The complaint cites a 2013 shipment of 840 long-tailed macaques into Houston, where SNBL veterinarians "observed that the animals were thirsty and some appeared weak, thin, and in poorer body condition than animals received in previous shipments." (This wasn't the first time that a company's monkeys have had problems upon arriving at Bush Intercontinental Airport. Historically, the Houston Airport System has taken an approach to proper monkey importation that could be described as either laissez faire or pass the buck. )
The company's veterinarians did not treat the animals, allowing them to be shipped to facilities in Alice and Everett, the complaint alleges. Five died before arriving in Everett, 17 "died or were euthanized shortly after arrival," and three more died over the next five days. The macaques had "suffered multiple organ failure caused by dehydration and hypoglycemia," according to the complaint.
Other disturbing allegations include an infant macaque escaping its primary enclosure and dying with its head caught on an outer panel, and another incident where a macaque "reached through the wires on its fencing, pulled the cable for the guillotine door into its enclosure, became entangled in the cable, and died by strangulation."
As if that weren't enough, the complaint also alleges that lab personnel:
"...discovered a six-week-old male [monkey] trapped in the fencing on top of an adjoining enclosure after it had escaped its primary enclosure through a two-inch gap between a chain link section and the wall, and animals within the adjoining cage had attempted to pull the animal through the fencing, causing the animal to be entangled and incur trauma to his body. The infant was found severely depressed, hypothermic, barely breathing, and dehydrated, and it subsequently died that afternoon from a combination of trauma and hypothermia."
But hey, if any fines are to be levied, they will certainly send a strong message, right? Not really: According to the complaint, SNBL paid just over $14,000 for prior alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Based on the millions that the company grosses, it's hard to imagine that USDA fines are any sort of deterrent.
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SNBL, which is also a federal contractor, is described on its website as "a leader" in "nonclinical toxicology studies." The company's Acute Radiation Syndrome program is used "to support drug development efforts for mitigating and treating radiation injury," among other things.
As you might imagine, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are none too pleased about the allegations outlined in the complaint.
In a press release, Kathy Guillermo, PETA's senior vice president of laboratory investigations, said that "SNBL's incompetence and indifference have killed too many monkeys for too many years. PETA is calling for this laboratory to be stripped of its funding and shut down."
In a statement, SNBL executive vice president Steven Glaza said, "We take these allegations seriously and are fully cooperating with the USDA to ensure that we are in complete compliance. This is everyone's priority."