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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 47.0° F  Fair
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My monkey: National Primate Research Center operates out of sight, out of mind

The work at the National Primate Research Center at the UW-Madison is usually shielded from public view. Even the fact that large numbers of monkeys are used for research there is not well known.

On occasion, the shield drops. In August 1997, for instance, reporter Jason Shepard began writing a series of articles for The Capital Times on how the Primate Center was using rhesus monkeys kept at the Henry Vilas Zoo for invasive and sometimes lethal research, in violation of written agreements.

The public was incensed, and the National Institutes of Health cut off its funding for the exhibit. Most of the monkeys were sent away, some for experimental use by other institutions.

In 2003, the UW paid $260,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Jennifer Hess, a former assistant research veterinarian at the center. Hess alleged that she was fired for complaining about "cruel and improper treatment" of the center's primates, like experimenting on a restrained animal until it died.

The UW also got in hot water in 2004, when three marmoset monkeys were accidentally scalded to death after being left in their cage during washing. The university was ultimately fined $6,875 by the USDA for this accident.

Ohio resident Michael Budkie, who runs a group called SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation Now!), has long argued that the UW is one of the nation's worst institutions in terms of its treatment of primates.

On two occasions this year, Budkie filed complaints with the USDA over incidents at the UW he learned about from records requests. The most recent, filed last week, includes a case in which a rhesus macaque was, he says, "forced to endure terrible suffering due to a brain abscess" for more than a year after vet staff recommended euthanasia.

In February, Budkie complained about a rhesus macaque who in 2007 sustained a "very deep" wound to his hand from another monkey, according to lab reports. Less than a month later, the animal was "accidentally burned" on the forehead with a soldering iron during a surgical procedure.

By the way, this twice-injured monkey, born on Oct. 19, 1997, was named "Shepard."

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