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Worked in a monkey lab?



628 Pieces of Primate Research Garbage

“We all operate in the same way,” said acting Wisconsin Primate Research Center director Joe Kemnitz in the midst of a long and embarrassing scandal over protected monkeys at the local zoo. But little did anyone realize just what a liar he was. No other primate laboratory comes even close to operating like Wisconsin.

In an industry where violations of federal law and regulation are the norm, where deceiving the public is high art, and animals are routinely neglected, tortured, and killed, it is nearly impossible for an institution to distinguish itself. But the University of Wisconsin, Madison has proven itself truly exceptional.

This time it has to do with the destruction of hundreds of videotapes.

A very brief review of UW-Madison's history of violations and deceit might help put the current instance in context.

October 12, 1989 A female rhesus monkey was steamed to death in a cage washer. Officials claimed that steps would be taken to assure that this would never happen again.

September 1, 1996 John Hearn, director of the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center since 1990, resigned to “pursue research and teaching full-time.”

June 25, 1997 Graduate School dean, Virginia Hinshaw said Hearn was forced to resign for failing to properly disclose his relationship with a woman who worked for him.

August 9, 1997 Multiple violations of written promises not to harm monkeys raised at the Henry Vilas Zoo came to light. It was learned that researchers at the UW-Madison Primate Research Center had quietly killed at least a dozen protected zoo monkeys in various experiments.

August 11, 1997 Scientists at the UW-Madison Primate Research Center said it was not their job to know the birthplace of monkeys they used and often killed in experiments.

August 12, 1997 Under pressure to reveal why the UW-Madison Primate Research Center used zoo monkeys in deadly research, top university officials began placing blame on John Hearn, the former director of the center.

August 14, 1997 Calling it a “serious breach” of a 1989 agreement with Vilas Zoo, UW-Madison admitted that 65 protected monkeys were removed from the zoo and subjected to invasive research studies in which many died.

August 16, 1997 Graduate School dean Virginia Hinshaw said she would not focus on how and why the zoo monkeys were killed during previous eight years.

August 19, 1997 Public learned that Graduate School dean Virginia Hinshaw had been informed in a letter more than a year earlier about improper research on protected zoo monkeys.

August 20, 1997 UW officials disclosed that 65 zoo monkeys had been used for invasive research after the promise not to do so was signed in 1989, and that 26 others were killed for their tissues and organs. UW officials reported that an additional 110 zoo monkeys had been sold to other research facilities, and that they did not know what had happened to them. Primate Center acting director Joeseph Kemnitz called newspaper coverage of scandal “some of the worst journalism I've ever seen,” and “The Cap Times [newspaper] should have to pay for this.”

August 23, 1997 The public learned that John Hearn had spent $40,000 to $60,000 in NIH grant funds to pay for overseas phone calls to a woman who was both one of his employees and his illicit lover. He was ordered to repay $3,000.

September 15, 1997 Director Kemnitz asserted, “No monkeys have been removed from the zoo facility since Aug. 21, 1996, and used for what we have traditionally categorized as invasive procedures.”

September 18, 1997 New incidents came to light raising more questions about the candor of UW officials regarding research on zoo monkeys. Kemnitz said he was “chagrined.”

Mid 2000 Videotapes from Ned Kalin's research on fear were requested under state open records statutes. The requests were ignored.

February 20, 2004 Primate center veterinarian Jennifer Hess received a $260,000 settlement when wrongfully terminated after claiming neglect as well as cruel and improper treatment of rhesus monkeys during experiments.

August 25, 2004 Public records revealed that 3 monkeys were killed in cage washer. Kemnitz said he believed the caretaker was distracted while transferring the animals.

February 2005 Rabbit killed in a cage washer.

Winter 2005 Ten cows died from neglect and starvation at a special research farm run by UW-Madison.

April 2005 Activists renewed request for videotapes.

August 16, 2005 Public records revealed multiple USDA violations. University claimed that stopping a 17 year-long research project after federal violations and monkey deaths were discovered by federal inspectors showed that the university's system of oversight was working.

December 13, 2005 The request for videotapes eight months earlier was denied. UW senior legal council, John Dowling, said, “[T]he public interest in nondisclosure outweighs the interest in disclosure.”

May 15, 2006, Isthmus , a weekly Madison newspaper, made a fresh request for the videotapes.

July 6, 2006 In a letter to Isthmus, Dowling wrote: “The videotapes and photographs in question were damaged, along with other data, when a steam valve broke on 1/18/05 releasing water and steam into the storage area. After the required time to keep these data had elapsed, they were destroyed.”

July 7, 2006 Public documents revealed that UW was cited for neglecting a sick dog and for repeat instances of neglect leading to injury to a monkey being kept in an inappropriate cage on July 5, 2005.

August 11, 2006 Article in Isthmus reported:

Isthmus followed up with a request for records regarding the steam-valve accident. The UW, in response, has released several documents, including a statement from an unnamed primate lab building manager dated July 13, 2005, six months after the purported accident. It says large amounts of high-pressure steam were released into a storage area, causing "considerable damage."

But the UW provided no information as to what was damaged, or how badly. “I don't know,” says Dowling, when asked if the damage made it impossible to view the tapes. He also doesn't know what his own letter means in saying the tapes were destroyed “after the required time.” He assumes this language, provided by others, refers to some records-retention schedule.

Beckham, in his April 2005 request, noted that the open records law prohibits the destruction of a requested record until at least 60 days after access is denied. The tapes were shredded 62 days after Dowling's denial.

February 2007 UW provided a catalog of videotapes it claims were destroyed on Feb. 13, 2006.

According to Dowling's July 6, 2006 letter to Isthmus : “The videotapes and photographs in question were damaged, along with other data.” The catalog provided includes 628 videotapes dated over a thirteen-year period, but no other documents.

The scope and quantity of the destroyed records is stunning. As far as is known, no effort was made to recover any of the allegedly damaged records. Either the university considered the research data disposable – some of the videos had been catalogued and stored for nearly two decades, or else the university considered them damning to its image.

The destruction of so much video evidence probably has something to do with the fact that activists are trying to establish a primate research exhibition hall directly next door to the labs and intend to put just this sort of information on public display.

In either case, the attitude of the university is utterly despicable. Either the research they conduct is meaningless and suitable only for the garbage, and the animals' suffering unworthy of remembering, or else they deny the publics' right to be informed.

This destruction of records is either the largest most blatant cover-up of cruelty by a publicly funded institution or else the most arrogant denial of the publics' right to know what government does to animals with taxpayer money, ever.

The destruction of these records by the University of Wisconsin dwarfs all its past efforts to deny that the animals it uses are neglected or mistreated. This event makes it transparently clear to all who would take notice that it considers the animals it uses as just so much trash.

There is reason for even more concern. The cynicism and arrogance in the system seems to run from the very top all the way down to the lowliest cage cleaner. UW system president Kevin P. Reilly has said: “The people of Wisconsin deserve to have absolute confidence in how their public university system teaches students, performs outreach and research, and conducts its day-to-day business…. When I became president of the University of Wisconsin System, I pledged that the UW System would be open and transparent in all that it does.”

Even a cursory examination of the record demonstrates clearly that Reilly has done nothing to change the culture of secrecy surrounding the university's animal research, nor has he done anything to instill an iota of warranted public confidence regarding the university's treatment of the animals it uses as it performs its research. In this regard, Reilly has failed to live up to his pledge to Wisconsin's citizens. Reilly has asserted that he wants “to demystify the UW System - to communicate what we do, how decisions get made, why decisions are made, and how we stand accountable to our own internal audiences, as well as the citizens of the state.”

UW chancellor John Wiley has vowed that the university's use of animals will never be debated by the university. Wiley seems very comfortable with the university's cover-ups and disinformation programs, and especially so when it comes to fooling the public about the animals used on campus.

Equally troubling is the potential involvement or willful silence about the destruction of the documents by university librarians. The primate center is home to a branch of the UW Library System. The mission of the June Northrop Barker Archives is to solicit, collect, organize, describe, preserve and provide access to the research and historical documents related to the field of Primatology. In the case of these videotapes, it seems that the librarians at the primate center, and any throughout the system who may have learned of the event and have kept quiet, have violated the professional ethics of librarianship.

It is hard to consider the destruction of these 628 videotapes and find anyone within the UW system who has acted with integrity.

But, there is more to be concerned about. Assume, for the sake of argument, that even one of these videotapes held even a moment's worth of information important to science or future scientists. That information has now been lost, forever. This goes to the heart of academic freedom. Not only will future scientists no longer have an opportunity to review these videos, but also, the public's right to understand how the university is using tax monies and what is actually occurring in its labs has been severely violated.

And even if none of the tapes held a smidgeon of data valuable to future scientists, the fact that the tapes were deemed insignificant is sufficient justification to examine them to ascertain just what counts as trash in the eyes of the primate researchers themselves.

Given the fact that this collection of videotapes encompasses thirteen years of research, it is likely that it cost taxpayers millions of dollars to produce.

So, at the end of the day, the University of Wisconsin demonstrated that it believes its research to be little more than trash. It tried to keep the destruction of the records secret. It has denied present and future scientists from examining its past and current research; it has denied the public's right to examine the records. It has destroyed a 628 piece videotape archive likely costing millions of dollars to produce, its librarians have remained silent, the scientific community has remained mute, and local media has barely taken notice.

Once again, the University of Wisconsin, Madison has proven itself a real standout in the world of vivisection and bamboozling the public .


The videotapes, at least according to the catalog supplied by John Dowling, span the years 1988 through 2001. The subject matter of the tapes is sometimes difficult to fathom, but is sometimes very clear and obvious.

The entire catalog is available here.

The following is a key of sorts regarding a few of the tapes' subject classifications.

CAYO : Cayo Santiago is an island approximately 1 km off the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico and part of the Caribbean Primate Research Center (CPRC). Free-ranging feral rhesus monkeys are maintained under semi-natural conditions for behavioral research and observation, and serve as a breeding colony for monkeys used in CPRC's invasive biomedical research.

Ned Kalin and Steve Shelton have been regular visitors to Cayo.

“Cayo Santiago is a highly unique, natural setting in which to study primate behavior,” says institute director Ned Kalin, who is also chair of the UW Medical School department of psychiatry. “It offers a different, complementary perspective to the work we have been conducting for years at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center on the biology of fear.” ….

“Our goal is to understand the relationship between the stress caused by the event and the monkeys' emotional state and physical health,” says Kalin, who is the Hedberg professor of psychiatry and psychology.

The UW researchers monitor monkeys' overall behavior and interaction with mothers, siblings and peers to identify those who are most sociable and those who avoid interactions and may be fearful.

Once a year, Shelton oversees a team that collects spinal fluid and blood samples indicating levels of stress hormones and immune function in the animals. EEGs are used to assess brain activity related to various kinds of temperament. Web retrieved 2/20/07.

See too, more UW propaganda.

MI SEPARATION : Mother-infant separation.

AMYG : Refers to experiments on monkeys with acid-burned amygdalae, the two small almond-shaped regions of the brain involved in regulation of basic emotions.

One way of determining what the destroyed videotapes may have shown is to consider scientific papers published by Kalin et al during or shortly after the videos were made. At least one of these is available on line. In “Effects of amygdala lesions on sleep in rhesus monkeys,” published in the October 2000 issue of Brain Research. Authors Ruth Benca, William Obermeyer, Steve Shelton, J. Droster, and Ned Kalin write:

We recorded sleep from 18 age-matched male rhesus monkeys, 11 of which hadpreviously received ibotenic acid lesions of the amygdala and seven of which were normal controls. Surface electrodes for sleep recording were attached and the subjects were seated in a restraint chair (to which they had been adapted) for the nocturnal sleep period….

Although earlier studies in several primate species suggested that sleep is not significantly disrupted when animals are chair-adapted, observation of the videotapes of our animals indicated that the animals were reacting to the chair, even after 4 days of adaptation. For example, both experimental and control animals experienced frequent, brief arousals that appeared to occur in response to neck muscle relaxation and head drop. In fact, total sleep time and sleep efficiency were lower in control subjects than reported for unrestrained macaques by other investigators. This was also true of subjects with small lesions. Consistent with our observations, other investigators have also found that sleep recorded in a restraining chair is more fragmented than sleep recorded by telemetry in normal, unrestrained animals.

More papers and articles with some details of the procedures and sorts of procedures that would have been shown on the tapes:

“The primate amygdala mediates acute fear but not the behavioral and physiological components of anxious temperament.” Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ, Kelley AE. J Neurosci. 2001 Mar 15;21(6):2067-74.

“The role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate.” Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Davidson RJ. J Neurosci. 2004 Jun 16.

“Calling for help is independently modulated by brain systems underlying goal-directed behavior and threat perception.” Fox AS, Oakes TR, Shelton SE, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA . 2005 Mar 15.

More on the Vilas Monkey Scandal

A chronology of UW primate center related news.



Madison's Hidden Monkeys is a joint project of the
Alliance for Animals and the
Primate Freedom Project