Slaughter of the Innocent
Covert investigations regularly disclose that abuse of animals in vivisection laboratories is endemic. US undercover investigator Matt Rossell worked at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) between 1998 and 2000 as a primate technician. His account of the suffering he witnessed there makes harrowing reading, particularly given that the scenes he describes were not isolated incidents and are repeated in laboratories around the world every day. It is because of animals like those described by the author and millions like them that we must never give up our struggle for the abolition of animal experimentation. It is why we must never allow Oxford University's South Parks Rd laboratory to be completed...
Between the spring of 1998 and the summer of 2000, I worked as a primate technician at ONPRC. ONPRC's main focus is basic research, including reproductive studies, behavioural studies (including maternal deprivation experiments, which have been duplicated in triplicate in laboratories around the world), and drug addiction studies on pregnant monkeys, to name a few. Technicians carry out most of the basic work, including procedures for which they have no training. Scientists seldom have anything to do with the primates.
Nothing I had seen before could have prepared me for what I saw during my two years at ONPRC, and it broke my heart every day. I bore witness to the realities for primates in vivisection, knowing that these abuses were not exclusive to that establishment, and that primates were being subjected to similar suffering throughout the world's research laboratories.
I saw baby monkeys distressed and diseased, living in their own filth, and adult monkeys gone mad, self-mutilating. Almost all the caged monkeys used for research lived alone in barren two by two-foot metal cages. Their days of unalleviated boredom were broken only by fear when they were seized or manipulated for study or when their cages were hosed down with them still inside.
At first I was completely overwhelmed, forced to work too fast to discern one monkey from another. All I saw were rows of cages, each with a desperate monkey trapped inside. But over time, each started to reveal their individuality and display complex, albeit caged, personalities. Some were meek, hiding and lip-smacking at the back of their cage, seeking reassurance. Others were more aggressive, displaying open-mouthed threats lunging toward the front of the cage or rattling the bars. Despite their solitary confinement, they did their best to relate to others in neighboring cages.
The monkeys at the ONPRC were mostly rhesus macaques (the same species currently used at Oxford and destined for use in the new lab, should it ever be built). These are highly intelligent, socially complex animals; in the wild they rely on family love and support, and share our capacity to feel anger, loneliness and depression. These needs were never addressed at the Primate Center.
The monkeys were imported, bred and housed in crude corrugated, metal-walled enclosures for low-cost breeding. Stress and cold caused still-births; babies were prematurely weaned - frequently making them ill - and put in small cages, from which - distressed and bewildered - they cried out for their mothers in vain. (Experts within the industry agree that isolation during infancy is directly linked to psychosis and self-mutilation in later life, but most were never paired).
Appalled at the conditions, I made an anonymous complaint to Dr Isis Johnson-Brown, then Oregon's United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector, the federal agency responsible for protecting lab animals and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. She was sympathetic, but finding the obstacles in her way insurmountable, was forced to resign in frustration. She stated: " the system is not set up to protect the animals but instead the financial interests of the research labs", a point regularly argued by campaigners around the world.
I tried to improve the quality of the monkeys' lives by working for the psychological well-being program, which existed on paper only because of a change in the language of that Animal Welfare Act in 1985. (Continue to part b)