Male baboon briefly evades vasectomy
SYDNEY, Australia––A week ago most Aussies might not have known the Australian National Baboon Colony from Parliament. A week from now similar confusion may reign.
On February 24, 2020, however, three Australian National Baboon Colony inmates touched off a national debate over the ethics of nonhuman primate use in biomedical research.
The three baboons, a 15-year-old male and two females, made a jailbreak upon arrival from the colony at the Royal Prince Albert hospital, “just outside the central business district and adjacent to the University of Sydney,” noted Guardian reporter Stephanie Convery.
“Three baboons in the carpark”
“Callers to Sydney talkback radio station 2GB were first to report they had seen primates running about the area of the hospital,” wrote Convery. “A caller told presenter Ben Fordham that he’d seen three baboons.”
Said the caller, “Mate, I’m deadset serious. I’m at the Royal Prince Albert. I’m six floors up and I was just having a gaze out at the carpark, and there were three baboons in the carpark. I’m deadset serious. They even had shiny red bottoms.”
Affirmed a second caller, “My daughter is an occupational therapist at the Royal Prince Albert, and she said ‘Yes mum, I’ve just helped to wrangle them.’”
Continued Convery, “The incident initially prompted mirth on social media, which increasingly gave way to concern for the welfare of the primates.”
Social media users root for clean getaway
A 2018 survey by Humane Research Australia found that only 37% of Australians were aware that any non-human primates were still used in Australia for biomedical research.
But as news of the runaway baboons spread, the incident soon eclipsed the recent Australian firestorms as the topic of concern of the day.
Most callers to radio stations and most posters to social media presumed that the baboons had bolted from an attempt to use them in some sort of gruesome experiment.
The baboons had been quickly caught, but thousands, unaware that they were already back in custody, hoped the trio could somehow make a getaway through the Sydney streets to somewhere they might be safe––though baboons are not native to Australia, where suitable baboon habitat would be scarce in any event and even scarcer after the fires.
Health minister responds
Eventually New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard personally responded.
The male baboon “was having a vasectomy because there is no desire for him to continue to breed for the troop, and the other option was to remove him from the troop,” Hazzard reassured the public via news media.
“This way,” Hazzard said, “he can stay with his family through or until old age.”
Two of the male baboon’s seven female family members accompanied him to the Royal Prince Albert hospital to help keep him calm, Hazzard said, adding that the escape delayed the vasectomy for a day and that all three baboons would rejoin the others a day later.
165 baboons at lab site
The Australian National Baboon Colony, bred specifically for biomedical research use from animals obtained more than 20 years ago, is housed at a Sydney Local Health District facility located 42 miles west of Sydney in the just slightly inland village of Wallacia.
Founded in 1891 around what was then the Boondah post office, renamed in honor of a local cattle rancher, Wallacia was until February 24, 2020 best known as the site of the first Australian fish ladder.
Reported Natalie Brown of Australia Now, “The exact number of animals at the facility is not publicly available, and animal welfare organizations have said requests to tour the facility have been refused. A spokesperson for the Department of Primary Industries said in a 2016 article that the Wallacia colony was allowed to house up to 165 baboons.
“Frankenstein-like surgical experiments”
“The Sydney Morning Herald in 2016 voiced concerns,” Brown recalled, “that ‘Frankenstein-like surgical experiments’ were being done on primates that may have included an apparent cover-up of a kidney transplant from a pig to a baboon.”
Elaborated Calla Wahlquist of The Guardian, “According to figures collated by Humane Research Australia, 272 primates were used in ‘invasive experiments’ in Australia in 2017. National figures are not compiled by any official body. South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital District do not provide data.
“The most common primate species used are baboons, macaques and marmosets,” Wahlquist continued. “Australia does not allow medical or scientific testing on great apes.”
“According to published scientific studies, compiled by the Humane Research Australia,” Wahlquist summarized, baboon use included “testing radioactive material on four baboons; a blood pressure study involving 109 baboons as part of research into the effects of hypertension in pregnancy; a study involving nine baboons where researchers attempted to induce preeclampsia, which resulted in the death of one mother and one baby baboon; and a study on shoulder injuries which involved surgically cutting the shoulder tendons of eight baboons who were then euthanized to allow post-mortem study of the healing process.”
The 12-member New South Wales Animal Research Review Panel oversees “166 accredited animal research establishments and 34 licensed animal suppliers,” Wahlquist reported.
38 primates among 2.63 million animals used––in just one state
“According to the latest New South Wales data, 38 primates were used in research in NSW in 2017,” Wahlquist summarized. “The total number of animals involved in animal testing and research in that state in 2017 was 2.63 million, of which 1.7 million were involved in ‘environmental studies’ and 1.6 million were described as tests with “observation involving minor interference.”
Most of those animals, especially those used in “environmental studies,” are believed to have been fish. About nine million were likely to have been mice and rats.
“Animals used in labs are usually killed”
While Hazzard gave the impression that the Australian National Baboon Colony is in phase-out, “Breeding colonies such as the one in Wallacia exist to replenish animal ‘stock’,” alleged People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals senior outreach and partnerships manager Emily Rice, “and they’re common because animals used in laboratories are typically killed. This may be as a result of the experiments they’re subjected to, or because they are disposed of when they are no longer useful to experimenters.”
Wrote Brown, “Regardless of whether the baboons’ escape was an intentional attempt to avoid further procedures, or just an opportunity to run, Rice said it ‘should lead us to question not their motives but rather those of the experimenters who continue to exploit them.
“These baboons made a desperate bid for freedom,” Rice said, “and they deserve to be retired to a sanctuary.”
USDA-APHIS restores data deleted in 2017
Data on U.S. use of nonhuman primates and other animals in experimentation is somewhat more accessible than in Australia, especially since February 18, 2020, when the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced that it “is restoring certain Animal Welfare Act records on its website,” under Congressional pressure.
Explained the USDA, “The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, passed on December 20, 2019, included a provision that requires the Agency to ‘restore on its website the searchable database and its contents that were available on January 30, 2017, and all content generated since that date.’”
Brian Klippenstein, director of the pro-animal use industry organization Protect the Harvest, funded by oil billionaire Forrest Lucas, was identified by the online “inside politics” magazine Politico, as for weeks “the sole [Donald Trump] transition team representative preparing USDA for a new administration.”
U.S. nonhuman primate use rising
Within days of U.S. President Donald Trump taking office, USDA-APHIS deleted without prior warning all Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act “inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication.”
The recently restored data affirms that about 110,000 monkeys are held by U.S. laboratories, with monkey use up by about 22% since 2015.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health “gave 249 grants in 2017 that supported nonhuman primate research, up from 171 in 2013,” reported Science writer David Grimm in November 2018, adding that “The agency expects the number of nonhuman primates it supports to continue to grow in coming years.”
SAEN wins standing to pursue case against USC
Working since 1996 to improve accountability in animal experimentation, toward eventually ending animal use in laboratories altogether, the Milford, Ohio-based organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now on February 27, 2020 won a key preliminary round in a pending lawsuit against the University of Southern California when Los Angeles Superior Court judge Dennis Landin ruled the SAEN has legal standing to pursue the case.
SAEN, according to a media release, “alleges that documents it obtained show USC routinely violates its mandatory research protocols, as well as applicable animal welfare laws and regulations,” including by “USC researchers killing baby animals by placing them in a carcass disposal freezer while still alive, performing unauthorized surgeries and injections on animals, withholding post-operative care, and failing to euthanize in a timely manner animals languishing with ulcerated tumors, according to the suit.”
“Six primate strangulation deaths”
SAEN on December 4, 2019 spotlighted “six primate strangulation deaths [due to entanglements] at the most prestigious U.S. research facilities, including Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pittsburgh, University of Washington (Seattle), and University of Texas (Medical Branch, Galveston). A sixth lab outside the jurisdiction of the USDA,” operated by the Food & Drug Administration, “has also allowed a primate to die of strangulation,” SAEN said.
“Offending laboratories all admitted to the gruesome deaths in correspondence,” SAEN added. “However, so far the USDA/APHIS/AC has only cited the University of Washington for the monkey strangulation.”
In previous monkey death and injury cases exposed by SAEN, the University of Louisiana in 2017 paid fines totaling $100,000. The SNBL corporation in 2016 paid a $185,000 fine for primate deaths at a laboratory in Everett, Washington, while Covance Research Products paid a $31,500 fine for 13 monkey deaths at a facility in Alice, Texas.