The Animal Legal Defense Fund is the latest animal welfare organization to raise serious concerns about conditions at Harvard University's New England Primate Research Center.
In a letter to the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Public Health Department, ALDF requests an investigation and penalties, as appropriate, for violations of federal, state and municipal animal cruelty laws. ALDF cites several instances of "inexcusable animal neglect" since June 2010, including several fatalities of monkeys, and charges that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has persistently failed to enforce the federal Animal Welfare Act, resulting in repeated violations at the primate center.
More than 1800 primates are used for research by Harvard Medical School faculty at the center, a 130-acre facility located in Southboro, Mass. Harvard has come under increasing criticism since February of this year, when a cotton-top tamarin monkey had to be euthanized after being found in its cage severely dehydrated, because staff failed to refill the monkey's water bottle.
Subsequently, Harvard announced a temporary halt to all new animal experiments, and the center's director has resigned. At the time, Harvard Medical School's Dean, Jeffrey Flier, called the death "absolutely unacceptable."
A USDA report released this month, found that the most recent monkey death constituted a "serious violation" of the Animal Welfare Act, and brings more than 20 citations leveled against the center for Animal Welfare Act violations. The agency has not yet determined whether fines of up to $10,000 per violation will be levied against the center for the four confirmed primate deaths.
In addition to ALDF's public call for an investigation by Cambridge authorities, PETA has suggested that the National Institutes of Health revoke its substantial research funding from the center as a result of the repeated instances of animal cruelty and neglect that have been documented. PETA noted that other universities have also lost NIH funding after animal welfare violations were committed at similar research laboratories.
In addition, an undercover animal rights activist recently claims to have documented a fifth monkey death at the center, but this incident has yet to be confirmed by Harvard or the USDA. Stay tuned for more developments on this heartbreaking story.
Photo credit: ALDF and cc:wikimedia.org--Samir B Amin