Re­search mon­keys get to re­tire

More labs giv­ing lab an­i­mals al­ter­na­tive to eu­th­a­niza­tion

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Car­rie Antlfinger

WEST­FIELD, WIS. — Iz­zle, Ti­mon, Bat­man, River and Mars spent years con­fined in­side a lab, their lives de­voted to be­ing tested for the ben­e­fit of hu­man health.

But these rhe­sus macaques have paid their dues and are now liv­ing in re­tire­ment — in larger en­clo­sures that let them ven­ture out­side, eat let­tuce and car­rots, dip their fin­gers in colorful plas­tic pools, paint, and hang from pipes and tires — in rel­a­tive quiet.

More re­search labs are re­tir­ing pri­mates to sanc­tu­ar­ies like Pri­mates Inc., a 17-acre ru­ral com­pound in cen­tral Wis­con­sin, where they can live their re­main­ing years, ac­cord­ing to the sanc­tu­ar­ies and re­searchers. For some mon­keys, it’s their first time hang­ing out in the fresh air.

“Just to see them look around in amaze­ment. You know it was all very calm and peace­ful,” said Amy Ker­win, who worked for 15 years to get the West­field, Wis­con­sin, sanc­tu­ary off the ground af­ter be­ing em­ployed in a Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin re­search lab.

There were ap­prox­i­mately 110,000 pri­mates in re­search fa­cil­i­ties in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data avail­able from the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture.

While most re­search fa­cil­i­ties need pri­mates to be eu­th­a­nized to ex­am­ine their tis­sues, tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, such as brain scans, mean fewer mon­keys need to be put down. Plus, re­searchers who be­come close with the an­i­mals are mak­ing ef­forts to give the ones who can sur­vive a re­tire­ment, rather than eu­th­a­niza­tion.

In 2015, a group of re­searchers, grad­u­ate stu­dents and an ethi­cist cre­ated the Re­search An­i­mal Re­tire­ment Foun­da­tion. It raises funds for labs to pay the sanc­tu­ar­ies to re­tire them. So far they have given $33,000 in fund­ing for three mon­keys who went to the Wis­con­sin sanc­tu­ary.

A visit to the Peace­able Pri­mate Sanc­tu­ary in In­di­ana helped con­vince Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., to au­thor a bill in­tro­duced last month, along with Rep. Bren­dan Boyle, D-Penn., that re­quires fed­eral agen­cies to de­velop a pol­icy al­low­ing an­i­mals no longer needed for re­search to be adopted out or put in sanc­tu­ar­ies. Cur­rently, no fed­eral reg­u­la­tions dic­tate what hap­pens to them. Some are sold to other stud­ies when one study is done.

The bill doesn’t ad­dress fund­ing, one of the main hur­dles to get pri­mates into re­tire­ment sanc­tu­ar­ies.

Cur­rently, grants through the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, the largest pub­lic fun­der of bio­med­i­cal re­search in the world, don’t in­clude money for re­tire­ment. That leaves the labs and sanc­tu­ar­ies to find the tens of thou­sands of dol­lars per mon­key, per year needed to care for them.

Mon­keys are fin­ished with stud­ies at dif­fer­ent ages and some can live for decades. Some can also leave with lin­ger­ing is­sues, like com­pul­sive be­hav­iors caused by bore­dom.

That’s why many sanc­tu­ar­ies re­quire the labs to send some fund­ing, of­ten be­tween $10,000 and $20,000, to help care and cre­ate space for mon­keys. Since many of the pri­mates have only lived in labs, they don’t have the skills needed to live in the wild.

Most pri­mates in ac­cred­ited sanc­tu­ar­ies are chim­panzees, ca­puchins, and squir­rel mon­keys, ac­cord­ing to Erika Fleury, pro­gram direc­tor for the North Amer­i­can Pri­mate Sanc­tu­ary Al­liance, or NAPSA, an ad­vo­cacy group for cap­tive pri­mates. They come from re­search, the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try or pri­vate homes.

Chim­panzees are no longer used in most re­search. The NIH an­nounced in 2013 it would stop sup­port­ing them in re­search and that they should be moved to sanc­tu­ar­ies, with fund­ing. It pointed to a re­port from the In­sti­tute of Medicine in 2011 that con­cluded the use of chimps in bio­med­i­cal re­search was un­nec­es­sary.

Cindy Buck­mas­ter, chair of the Amer­i­cans for Med­i­cal Progress, which rep­re­sents re­search uni­ver­si­ties and med­i­cal re­search com­pa­nies, said that be­sides fund­ing, re­searchers are con­cerned about sanc­tu­ar­ies stan­dards, their fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity and whether some sanc­tu­ar­ies’ ties to an­i­mal rights groups will cause them to bad­mouth the in­sti­tu­tion.

“We re­ally feel very grate­ful to them and we want them to have won­der­ful lives af­ter,” Buck­mas­ter said. “They cer­tainly de­serve it. But it has to be done well and it has to be done prop­erly be­cause we’re not go­ing to put our an­i­mals in harm’s way.”

Some an­i­mal rights groups, in­clud­ing Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals, don’t sup­port re­search but do agree with re­tir­ing mon­keys to sanc­tu­ar­ies rather than hav­ing them eu­th­a­nized.

Sanc­tu­ar­ies have been around for decades but, in 2010, more than a half-dozen came to­gether to cre­ate NAPSA.

Be­sides re­quir­ing high stan­dards for sanc­tu­ar­ies, NAPSA is also up­ping ef­forts with re­searchers to en­cour­age them to ask for re­tire­ment fund­ing upfront.

CAR­RIE ANTLFINGER/AP

Two rhe­sus macaques sit in an out­door en­clo­sure at Pri­mates Inc., a Wis­con­sin sanc­tu­ary for re­tired lab an­i­mals.

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