The death of five baboons and a monkey last year at the University of Washington’s primate field station in Medical Lake were unusual occurrences that will not disrupt research programs, a UW official said Friday.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last week indicated the animal deaths might lead to severe sanctions, even possible closure of the station, housed in a former mental facility near Eastern State Hospital.
Under federal regulations, the university could lose its license to raise and house research animals and be fined as much as $2,500 per animal per violation, said Dr. Homer Malaby, USDA animal care specialist in Sacramento, Calif.
But such severe USDA action is unlikely, the university insists.
Dr. William Morton, head of primate research programs at the university, said the deaths were inadvertent.
Five baboons died in November when they remained outside instead of returning to the enclosed cell areas within the building.
Morton said staff members can’t be blamed for those deaths.
The station has about 200 baboons and 1,200 Asian macaque monkeys that are used for research projects or for breeding.
The five baboons appeared to have gone outside with other baboons during the day, but were constrained from coming into the cell area by other baboons, Morton said.
In another incident, a macaque monkey died from lack of water last year, Morton acknowledged. That monkey was in an area where workers were doing water line repairs.
After repairs were done, the line into the monkey’s cage was not turned on, he said.
The critical report, issued by the USDA’s legal section in San Francisco, comes months after the initial inspections, he added. Few concerns raised in the report are valid now, Morton said.
“We’ve gone through a recent inspection and came through clean. We’ve long since corrected any deficiencies and made corrective actions,” he explained.
The USDA also complained that UW failed to provide adequate veterinary care for the primates and did not properly maintain cages and enclosures.
Another charge is that the university failed to provide “environmental enrichment” programs to stimulate the intelligent animals, according to USDA reports.
Morton said recent staff additions, including a full-time director, will keep care at a higher level.
But the university denies previous care was inadequate.
“They also charged that most of the monkeys here suffer from diarrhea. The truth is, these monkeys all have occurrences of diarrhea. It’s a common condition with this species for reasons we don’t know,” he said.
About 200 of the macaque monkeys at Medical Lake are part of AIDS vaccine and AIDS anti-viral medicine research.
The macaque species has become an important part of federal AIDS research. The monkey breeds easily, but more importantly is one of a few primates that can be infected with HIV-1 and HIV-2, the two main strains of the AIDS virus.
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