The California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) is one of seven so-called “flagship primate centers” established and funded by the federal National Institutes of Health (NIH) and one of the largest primate laboratories in the world. Located in Davis, California, the CNPRC is affiliated with the University of California–Davis (UC-Davis), which used 2,387 nonhuman primates—nearly all of whom were either rhesus macaques or crab-eating macaques, although the laboratory also confines the New World titi monkey—in experiments in 2017. An additional 2,293 nonhuman primates were imprisoned at the facility for other purposes, including breeding. In 2018, UC-Davis received more than $238 million from NIH, including an $11.2 million base grant specifically to maintain the CNPRC.
In this video included in a paper authored by CNPRC experimenters, a distressed infant monkey, the victim of a misguided experiment ostensibly aimed at understanding autism in humans, was separated from his or her mother and paces frantically in a cage.
Dozens of experimenters, most of whom are UC-Davis faculty, use monkeys at the CNPRC for painful, cruel, dangerous, and worthless experiments. The center is the site of an Inhalation Exposure Core, which offers monkeys to experimenters not affiliated with the CNPRC to conduct studies in which these animals are forced to inhale toxic or harmful substances, such as smoke from tobacco and e-cigarette vaping. In a 2018 publication, CNPRC staff discuss an NIH-funded experiment using this inhalation core, in which groups of macaque monkeys were forced to live in a room that was continually filled with tobacco smoke for seven-day periods to study the effects of secondhand smoke on age-related vision loss. The primates were then killed so that their internal organs could be dissected and examined.
These are a few other examples of the types of cruel and worthless experiments that have occurred at the CNPRC:
- Ernesto Salegio has deliberately inflicted spinal-cord injuries on rhesus macaque monkeys.
- For many years, John Capitanio has led a team of experimenters who have permanently separated baby monkeys from their mothers to study the impact of this early-life stress on the regulation of hormones.
- Karen Bales has subjected small titi monkeys to a series of invasive procedures—removing males from their families, manually restraining them and injecting them with a radio tracer, placing the males in a cage from which they watched their mates interact with a strange male, and then sedated the animals, drew blood from them, and placed them in an MRI scanner—all ostensibly for the purpose of studying jealousy in monogamous animals.
Federal inspection reports describe a den of horrors for primates at the CNPRC. Workers have failed to handle monkeys humanely, resulting in injury and death. Monkeys have escaped from their enclosures because of staff inattention—and died from subsequent injuries. UC-Davis’ Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee—the oversight body intended to serve as the animals’ last line of defense—has repeatedly failed to review proposed experiments adequately, leaving the animals completely vulnerable to incompetence, neglect, and rogue experimenters.
In one incident, a female macaque monkey who had escaped from a transport enclosure was tranquilized with a dart gun and captured—but was found to be in declining health later in the day and had to be euthanized. A pathology report determined that she had suffered from internal bleeding, likely from when she was shot with the dart. In another incident, a juvenile monkey was found dead in an enclosure shared with a second monkey. The young primate was “trapped in the squeeze mechanism built into the primary enclosure and died as a result of trauma to the head and neck.” The school was also cited for individually isolating two infant nonhuman primates instead of allowing them to live together. They were kept alone for approximately four months—a particularly cruel fate for animals so young. No explanation was given in the animals’ records for why they had been housed separately for that extended period.
The unlawful acts of abuse at UC-Davis’ animal laboratories have occasionally resulted in financial penalties, but the paltry fines pale in comparison to the millions of dollars that the university rakes in each year to conduct experiments. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined UC-Davis $5,000 after an improperly anesthetized rabbit died after a pressure valve had been accidently left in the closed position, resulting in a lethal buildup of pressure in the animal’s lungs. And in 2005, the agency fined the university $4,815 after seven rhesus macaque monkeys baked to death in the room where they were caged. A catastrophic malfunction in the HVAC system caused the room temperature to soar to 115 degrees.