A Texas biomedical research organization that made headlines this week after four baboons made a complicated escape from their enclosure has a "history" of animal welfare violations. The facility was once fined more than $ 25,500 by the United States Department of Agriculture for its transgressions, said the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
HSUS Vice President Animal Research Issues Kathleen Conlee said Newsweek stated that "there was a history of animal rights violations" at the federally funded Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, where baboons were able to escape on Saturday their enclosure by rolling a barrel into an upright position and climbing over a fence.
The escaped baboons were quickly picked up by institute employees who were filmed hunting the primates in masks and protective gear.
Conlee said HSUS has found primates at the institute, which houses more than 2,500 animals, including 1,100 baboons, for research, in "poor conditions" without "much enrichment or opportunities to engage in natural behavior. " She said there were also cases of unnecessary injury or death that left dead animals in their enclosures for days.
A five-week covert investigation by HSUS in 2014 found a "pattern of maltreatment" of primates, including unnecessary injuries and deaths.
"The nursing standards of the facility often did not comply with the Federal Animal Protection Act: primates lived in crowded and barren habitats, mothers and toddlers were separated and injured and ill animals were not cared for in time," says a report by HSUS.
Conlee said the animals' social health was also neglected, resulting in harmful behavior including "wounding, hair plucking and self biting". 19659002]
"We thought they would be malnourished, and we ate a lot of rock, "Conlee said, pointing to a case where lab staff showed the HSUS investigators an x-ray of a baboon with a" stomach full of stones. "
The escape on Saturday was not the first time that baboons in TBRI came out of their enclosure, in 2010 two baboons escaped and seriously injured a caretaker before they could be captured, according to MySanAntonio.com.
The USDA fined $ 25,714 for three violations of the Animal Welfare Act and issued a list of recommendations to the research center.
Read more: Baboons use a keg to flee the Texas research facility
A rhesus monkey also escaped from the institute in 2009 and had to be euthanized after being ill from spending the night outdoors in cold weather.
In 2014, the same year as the HSUS survey, TBRI received a $ 2.7 million federal research grant to help scientists examine medicines for heart disease, Parkinson's, diabetes and obesity.
Since then, the USDA has made a number of corrections to the Institute, with a routine inspection on February 28, 2017, identifying a "critical" problem with the facility's heating system, in which a male baboon contracted his hands and second degree burns Feet after touching a heating pipe.
The report called on the institute to remedy the problem by making the heating pipes inaccessible to animals within less than a month, and exposing additional animals to "a risk of injury" until the problem was resolved.
A report dated January 28, 2016 also found that employees had abused baboons in two incidents leading to injury and death in 2015.
In one case, a female baboon suffered injuries when three male baboons received "access to it". in the plant's facility during the transfer, the report said. The second incident occurred when a male baboon was able to lift a sliding door and attack a woman and her child, resulting in the death of the infant baboon.
Both incidents were caused by a "lack of communication between employees causing the animals," with the report, "Animals must be handled carefully and in a manner that does not cause trauma." The staff had to recreate as a result of the investigation be trained.
Conlee, who spent seven years in a primate breeding facility before joining HSUS, said she does not believe that TBRI experts have the expertise or understanding of primate "social dynamics", baboons or other animals to be treated in the facility.
"The worst thing you can do for a primate is to take him for a social companion," Conlee said. "They want them to behave socially well, but you also have to understand social dynamics first."
The animal science expert also said that the recently highlighted biomedical research center should raise questions about why the US is still funding research. It uses animal experiments, arguing that studies are not only inhuman, but also costly due to technological advances and are no longer necessary.
"They get a lot of money from the federal government to keep these animals and it's time to look at exactly the money that comes in and what comes out," Conlee said, adding, "It's very expensive, these animals
TBRI has said, "Baboons, as with all our animals, are vital to biomedical research." In particular, baboons have played an important role in the discovery of life-saving medicines, therapies and vaccines, leading to a better understanding of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity [and] osteoporosis. "
However, Conlee insisted that alternatives such as" organ-on-chips "technology, in which human cells grow in a system that mimics the structure and function of human organ systems for testing, 3D printing and epidemiological studies, more provide humane opportunities for biomedical research without captivating or harming animals.
In November 2015, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) announced that it would no longer support biomedical and invasive research on chimpanzees. NIH's own "chimpanzees" may "retire and move to a sanctuary."
Conlee said it was time for the US and other countries to consider a similar ban on research on primates and other animals.
"At the end of the day there are many problems with using these animals, so why are we continuing to invest in something that does not get better and w will be problematic? "Conlee questions.
"Our mission is to help stop using animals and primates for biomedical research and replacing them with alternatives that are better for human health and more cost-effective," she added
Texas Biomedical Research Institute said they could not immediately respond to a request for comment, but said the USDA conducts annual inspections of its facility and pointed to a report on the Agency's latest investigation this month, in which it said the USDA "congratulated" The Animal Institute is a team "on the level of technical knowledge and passion for animal care".
The report added that the Texas Biomedical Research Institute has long been committed to treating its animals humanely and with the greatest appreciation. "