PETA Alleges Federal Law Violated in NIH Laboratory That Tortures, Inflicts Brain Damage on Monkeys

PETA Files Complaint, Points to Newly Obtained Documents Showing Monkeys Subjected to Multiple Surgeries, Kept Thirsty, Isolated

For Immediate Release:
June 25, 2020

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382


This morning, PETA filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) alleging violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) laboratory where Elisabeth Murray conducts experiments in which monkeys are inflicted with permanent brain damage and then tormented in a variety of ways, including by being terrified with fake snakes and spiders.

The complaint was prompted by federal documents newly obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests revealing that monkeys in this NIH laboratory are subjected to a litany of procedures that cause pain and distress that is acute or chronic—including the following:

  • In violation of federal law, monkeys are subjected to multiple invasive surgeries—including craniotomies in which sections of their skulls are carved out, a head post is implanted at the top of their skulls so that their heads can be held still, and a large hole is cut into their skulls so that experimenters can inject drugs into the brain.
  • Monkeys are fitted with a metal or hard plastic collar and strapped into a restraint chair that keeps their head, arms, and/or legs immobilized. For some experiments, their arms are tied behind their backs while their heads are kept still via a head post. They are held in this manner for hours at a time as often as five days a week.
  • Monkeys’ food and water consumption is severely restricted so that they will be motivated to “prompt[ly] respond” to the experimenters and “earn food or fluid … rewards.”
  • Highly social rhesus macaques are caged alone, which frequently leads to self-harming behavior, as shown in a video obtained by PETA.

PETA’s complaint points out that in contravention of federal law, Murray failed to consider alternative approaches, such as human-based research methodologies; ensure that veterinarians would have sufficient authority to prioritize the welfare of the monkeys; and appropriately classify her experiments as causing monkeys unrelieved pain and distress.

“Three decades of creating brain-damaged, lonely, depressed, traumatized, and anxious monkeys—in apparent violation of the Animal Welfare Act—must come to an end,” says PETA research associate and neuroscientist Dr. Katherine Roe. “PETA is calling on the USDA to launch an investigation and hold NIH responsible for every single violation of federal law it finds in this grotesque laboratory.”

In February, PETA released video of Murray’s fright experiments on brain-damaged monkeys.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to experiment on”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit or click here.

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