Yerkes National Primate Research Center is one of seven so-called “flagship primate centers” established and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and one of the largest primate laboratories in the world. Located in Atlanta, Yerkes is affiliated with Emory University, which used 1,900 nonhuman primates in experiments in 2017. An additional 1,927 nonhuman primates were imprisoned at the facility for other purposes, including breeding. In 2017, Emory received nearly $325 million from NIH, of which Yerkes received nearly $80 million.
Experimenters at Emory use monkeys in addiction studies and in experiments designed to cause extreme psychological distress. Emory’s Mar Sanchez subjects infant monkeys to maternal abuse and neglect and studies the impact of this early-life stress on their “enhanced vulnerability to the reinforcing effects of cocaine.” Another Emory experimenter, Stuart Zola, has cut lesions in monkeys’ brains and tied the animals to restraint chairs—using severe stress to induce and then measure cognitive deficits. He has also induced strokes in monkeys by obstructing a major artery leading to the brain.
Federal inspection reports document that the suffering of primates at Yerkes has been exacerbated by inexcusable negligence. Monkeys have died from starvation, strangulation, suffocation, heatstroke, asphyxiation from their own vomit, self-mutilation, being scalded to death after a cage was placed in an automated washer with the animal remaining inside, trauma and shock, and sepsis. Recent inspection reports reveal that monkeys suffered from debilitating pain and, in one case, died after gauze had been left in an animal’s abdomen during experimental surgery. A 7-month-old female monkey died after having been left behind and forgotten inside an unattended cage. And a juvenile monkey had to be euthanized after a rubber band that had been tied to his wrist became embedded in his body after staff neglected to remove it. Staff had used rubber bands to tie him down while he was being tattooed with an identification number.
Between 1997 and 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) fined Yerkes $17,375 for a litany of serious animal-welfare violations. In 2007, it was ordered to pay $15,000 by an administrative law judge for “willful violations” of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including an incident in which a squirrel monkey was sent through a boiling-hot industrial cage washer while she was still locked inside and another incident in which personnel were restraining monkeys with duct tape. Sadly, these fines are unlikely to be a meaningful deterrent from further violations. Given Yerkes’ $80 million annual award from the federal government to hurt and kill monkeys in experiments, it will recover the money that it paid for abusing animals in merely four hours of operation.
Yerkes is currently under investigation by the USDA for additional violations.