Video Exposé: NIH Makes Baby Monkeys Mentally Ill By Taking Them From Moms

Highly Controversial, Much-Criticized Abuse of Baby Monkeys Was Thought to Have Ended Decades Ago: Goodall, Other Scientists Want It Stopped Now

For Immediate Release:
September 8, 2014

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382

Bethesda, Md.

More than a half-century after the infamous Harry Harlow first showed that infant monkeys who are torn away from their mothers suffer from psychoses, PETA is releasing video footage revealing that hundreds of baby monkeys are still being subjected to maternal deprivation, social isolation, and traumatic psychological experiments—led by a Harlow protégé at a National Institutes of Health (NIH) laboratory in Poolesville, Maryland.

Backed by prominent scientists, including Dr. Jane Goodall, PETA is calling for an immediate end to the 30-year-old project that’s received $30 million from tax funds in just the past seven years and is approved to continue through 2017—even though mental-health experts concur that it’s never led to the development or improvement of treatments for human mental illness.

Hundreds of hours of videos and hundreds of photographs and documents obtained by PETA from the NIH through a contested Freedom of Information Act request show that as many as 60 monkeys are bred every year to be prone to depression and other mental illness. Half are taken from their mothers at birth, never returned, and subjected to years of deeply distressing and even painful experiments at NIH—all designed to cause, worsen, and measure the monkeys’ severe anxiety, fear, aggression, depression, and psychological illnesses.

NIH videos obtained by PETA—an excerpt of which PETA is releasing today—depict recent experiments such as these:

  • Infants were restrained inside tiny cages and placed in isolation in “startle chambers.” Experimenters then deliberately scared the babies with loud noises and powerful bursts of air, causing them to cry out and try to hide or escape. But they cannot.
  • Infants were caged with their mothers, who were chemically sedated and placed into a car seat. The terrified babies screamed and cried and frantically shook their unresponsive mothers. In one case, experimenters can be heard laughing while a mother struggles to remain awake in order to comfort her distraught child.
  • Infants are placed alone in small cages and intentionally terrified by the threatening presence of a masked human who stares at them while they cower and scream.

As they age, some monkeys are forcibly addicted to alcohol, which makes their symptoms more severe, and many of the monkeys are killed before the age of 8.

Approximately 200 monkeys of various ages are currently being used in these studies at NIH, which are being conducted in collaboration with faculty from other institutions, including the University of Maryland, Wake Forest University, and McGill University.

“Monkeys are being subjected to what I consider inhumane experiments at a laboratory in Maryland that is funded by public money,” said world-renowned primate expert Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE. “I am shocked and saddened that this is so.”

“Maternal deprivation experiments on baby monkeys are a textbook example of unethical psychological research, and they need to stop,” says PETA Director Justin Goodman. “We’re in the age of brain imaging and superior human-based research that allows us to study the causes and treatments of mental illness in humans without terrorizing animals in traumatic experiments.”

A comprehensive review conducted by PETA and independent experts in psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, and primatology shows that these experiments haven’t contributed to our treatment of human beings and that more relevant research with human-based methods are available. PETA has submitted a detailed report of these findings to NIH leadership.

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