National group requests federal investigation of Tulane Primate Center

Brandi Doyal, Staff Reporter

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Stop Animal Exploitation Now, a national animal rights group, requested that the federal government investigate both Tulane University and University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s primate centers because of chimpanzee and monkey deaths that have occurred since late 2012.

Michael Strecker, Tulane’s executive director of public relations, said Tulane was involved in one incident relating a primate death because of negligence.

“In 2012, an ill rhesus macaque died after being transported by the Tulane National Primate Center to receive veterinary care,” Strecker said. “There was speculation that the primate being left overnight in the van used to transport it may have contributed to its death the following day. This incident was thoroughly investigated by Tulane and self-reported to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, the agency that oversees the care and use of animals in federally funded research.”

SAEN filed an official complaint regarding the incident with the United States Department of Agriculture against the Tulane National Primate Center on Jan. 24. SAEN asked that the maximum fine be issued to Tulane University if the investigation proves that a violation has occurred.

“I know that your office considers major violations of the Animal Welfare Act to be very serious in nature, especially when these violations kill or seriously injure animals,” the complaint stated. “Since this incident involved the unnecessary death of an animal, I must insist that you take the most severe action allowable under the Animal Welfare Act and immediately begin the process of issuing the maximum fine allowable against Tulane University at the completion of your investigation – $10,000 per infraction.”

Tulane National Primate Center Director Andrew Lackner said this incident was properly addressed according to the regulations of the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. Lackner said the incident was addressed as soon as it happened, and that a resolution was reached.

“When [incidents occur] the first group that has to be called is the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, and we did,” Lackner said. “There was a lot of communication back and forth, and we identified it and figured out what happened then took corrective action.”

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare approved the correctional and disciplinary actions the Tulane National Primate Center undertook following the incident. Strecker said it should be noted that the Tulane National Primate Center, located in Covington, La., transports animals several times a day, seven days a week.

“These [correctional and disciplinary] actions included probation, suspension and termination of employees involved in the incident, the retraining of all employees and the introduction of new practices and procedures regarding the transportation of animals,” Strecker said. “The absence of similar incidents attests to the comprehensive nature of the center’s operating procedures, policies, practices and training.”

Tulane National Primate Center instated new practices in regard to animal transportation. Employees now inspect vehicles at the end of every shift to ensure that cages are easily visible to the driver.  

SAEN cofounder Michael Budkie said though Tulane had taken countermeasures to prevent future incidents, the primate died nonetheless while in the care of the Tulane National Primate Center.

“That doesn’t change the fact that Tulane violated the law, and it does not bring that monkey back to life,” Budkie said. “We think the maximum penalty should be given.”

Lackner said the Primate Center has had no similar incidents occur since, and regular, unannounced inspections occur in the Primate Center. Lackner said the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International has continued to rate the Primate Center an exemplary organization, a rating given to only the top 3 percent of research institutions.

“The Primate Center takes great pride in how we take care of the animals,” Lackner said.