The Ohio-based organization Stop Animal Exploitation NOW is accusing the California National Primate Center at UC Davis of negligence in the deaths of at least a dozen young monkeys in 2011.
SAEN filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after learning last week that the USDA had cited the center for deaths in 2009 and 2010. The USDA decided not to levy a fine against the center because of improvements made there, according to the university.
In a letter to the USDA, Michael Budkie, SAEN’s executive director, claims the unnecessary deaths continued. He points to center necropsy reports listing the causes of death for eight young female macaques and four young males as improper nutrition of lack of suckling.
In all, Budkie writes, some 130 animals died at the center with varying degrees of dehydration and exhaustion from lack of nourishment. It is possible that some did not receive adequate medical care or that they should have been euthanized earlier to prevent undue suffering, he adds.
Other reports indicate that young monkeys suffered what appeared to be traumatic abuse from adults.
“It is clear from UC Davis’ own veterinary records that infant animals are still suffering from maternal neglect and that the care given older primates has not improved — this negligence has led to multiple deaths,” Budkie said in a news release. “The public record does not bear out statements made by UC Davis or the USDA. Nothing has changed; primates are still suffering and dying in violation of federal law.”
Dallas Hyde, professor of veterinary medicine at UCD and the center’s director, said some of the safeguards put into place — like a second daily health check and a committee that reviews the death of each animal — were added during 2011. He said there are currently “about a half-dozen” studies examining issues like dehydration, including the use of food supplements and goat milk.
“We’re putting this under the microscope for our own programatic reasons,” Hyde said.
Of the 300-acre center’s research animals, about 3,000 live outside in 24 half-acre corrals. With more than 500 births per year, the center is one of the largest breeders of monkeys in the eight-location National Primary Research Centers Program.
Hyde said it can be difficult for staff members to get a good look at infant monkeys in the corral during health checks, so they have begun providing fruit treats to lure mothers close enough that their offspring can be better looked over and sometimes bottle-fed.
First-time mothers receive special scrutiny because they’re most likely to neglect their offspring or have trouble with lactation. Neglected young are sometimes adopted by other females who aren’t lactating. A dead infant showing signs of dehydration may have neglected for as little as a day, Hyde said.
Mothers and young aren’t netted and brought inside the facility because it would interrupt the social order of the colony, he said.
The mortality rate among the macaques at the center hovers around 20 percent, he said, compared to 40 percent in the wild.
“The San Diego Zoo isn’t doing any better. … Pandas in captivity have a mortality rate of about 19 percent — and they have 24/7 care,” Hyde said.
“It’s hard to do much better than 20 percent (among macaques), but we think that we can.”
The USDA last fined the Davis center in 2005, after an incident the year before in which a faulty room heater killed six monkeys.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden