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Undercover Investigation Reveals Alleged Mistreatment at Monkey Lab

An undercover investigation of a major primate research lab in San Antonio revealed a pattern of mistreatment of its monkeys, including death, injury, overcrowding, and lack of medical care, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

The organization claims that a five-week investigation of the Southwest National Primate Research Center, which houses 3,000 primates, led to citations by federal inspectors for the death of an emaciated baboon suffering from an infection, and a rhesus monkey whose tail was partially severed in a fight.

The undercover HSUS employee, who worked as an animal caretaker, allegedly found other potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including:

- Monkeys pulling out their hair, a sign of extreme stress

- "Stressed and underfed" baboons resorting to eating rocks and feces

- "Extensive fighting within groups, resulting in wounds"

- Infants separated from mothers but housed nearby, "resulting in constant cries from the infants and significant stress to the mothers."

Part of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the primate research center boasts "the world's largest captive baboon population" and "the largest chimpanzee census" among the country's eight primate labs conducting research funded by the National Institutes of Health.

A June 2014 USDA inspection notes that caretakers had not tended to a young male baboon who "was emaciated at time of death and had multiple scabs from bite wounds on the body and a large abscess on the leg and ankle."

The baboon was "in good body condition" when he was placed into a new enclosure with "a large number of male baboons" three weeks before his death.

The report also notes an adult female rhesus monkey whose tail was partially skinned in a September 2013 injury, and who suffered "a second traumatic episode" a month later in which she "sustained injuries that included multiple lacerations to the face and body."

Part of the tail was severed in the altercation.

The center was ordered to take corrective action, but was not fined.

The center has a history of Animal Welfare Act violations, including a 2006 incident in which veterinarians performed a necropsy on a baboon who was, unbeknownst to them, still alive; and the 2011 escape of a rhesus monkey who was euthanized after showing signs of hypothermia.

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USDA fines are nothing compared to the center's federal research grant money -- the living necropsy cost the center $6,094, and the three 2011 violations were $25,714. That same year, the center won a five-year, $19 million NIH contract for chimpanzee research alone. There appears to be little incentive to adequately care for the center's primates.

Kathleen Conlee, the HSUS' vice president of animal research issues, told us "We are urging increased enforcement action, including penalties that won't be considered a normal cost of doing business."

A spokeswoman for the center said she would provide us with a statement this morning, but we haven't received anything. We'll update if and when we get it.

Update: We just heard from spokeswoman Lisa Cruz, who tells us "The issues currently being stated were reported and reviewed by USDA this summer. We worked closely with the USDA to resolve everything brought to our attention. We have changed some of the procedures we use in monitoring the primates in our care and implemented expanded training procedures to ensure we are providing the best care possible."

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