PETA Lawsuit Nets Video Footage Primate Experimenter Fought to Hide

The Secret’s Out on Tape: Taxpayer-Funded Self-Mutilation Studies on Monkeys at Four National Labs, Including SNPRC

For Immediate Release:
June 24, 2020

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382

San Antonio

Today, after a two-year open records fight followed by a lawsuit, PETA has released video footage obtained from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst (UMass) showing monkeys filmed by experimenters at four national primate research centers, including the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. The 40 hours of footage that UMass released in a legal settlement show deeply distressed monkeys housed in small metal cages, pacing endlessly, tearing out their hair, and even poking their thumbs into their own eye sockets.

In 2017, PETA filed a Freedom of Information records request to obtain videos related to a study overseen by UMass experimenter Melinda Novak as part of a project titled “Self-Injurious Behavior and Primate Well-Being,” for which she received more than $2.1 million in taxpayer funds. The public university denied the request and fought to keep the tapes from seeing the light of day, so PETA filed a lawsuit. Two years later, during the course of litigation and after PETA subpoenaed Novak’s records and tried to set a date to depose her under oath, UMass agreed to settle the case and hand over copies of all the videos, with images of the experimenters redacted.

Novak’s earlier work, which was carried out under now-notorious monkey experimenter Harry Harlow, included maternal deprivation experiments on monkeys in which infants were taken from their mothers and raised in isolation or given inanimate “surrogate mothers,” often made of metal. In the late 1980s, she shifted her focus to studying self-injurious behavior in laboratory-confined macaques, looking at hair-pulling and self-biting, hair loss (alopecia), and stereotypic movements, such as pacing and rocking, all symptoms of extreme psychological distress. Starting in 1990, she received more than $10 million in taxpayer funds to study how and why monkeys mutilate themselves in laboratories. Following more than 30 years of conducting these hideous experiments, she suddenly retired after PETA’s lawsuit was filed.

Although the purported point of the studies was to show how monkeys suffer simply by being caged in laboratories, with an eye to preventing this trauma—and even though Novak published dozens of journal articles on her research—not one improvement to help monkeys used for experimentation has been required since the 1985 amendments to the federal Animal Welfare Act, which were the result of PETA video exposés of the suffering of monkeys in laboratories.

“Three decades of studying the psychological, emotional, and physical trauma of monkeys caged for experiments—yet not one thing has been done to help these animals,” says PETA Vice President Dr. Alka Chandna. “Experimenters at federally funded national primate research centers must stop creating trauma simply to study it, and the use of monkeys must end now.”

The 40 hours of footage now in PETA’s possession were filmed by experimenters at UMass and at four other national primate research centers—the SNPRC, the Oregon National Primate Research Center, the Washington National Primate Research Center, and the now-shuttered New England National Primate Research Center—and sent to Novak for analysis.

Texas Biomed’s long history of negligence, mistreatment, and incompetence has resulted in numerous citations for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. According to federal inspection reports posted earlier this year, a female baboon was strangled when a cable on the door to her cage became loose, the arm of a juvenile baboon was fractured after it became stuck in a fence, a female macaque’s finger had to be amputated after it became caught in a cage mechanism, and a marmoset escaped from a cage and entered another, fatally injuring another marmoset. Earlier reports document that there were bloodied, injured, burned, emaciated, hypothermic, and asphyxiated monkeys—and the facility was even issued a fine in 2011.

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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