Love in Infant Monkeys

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on January 29, 2015

harlow-monkey-240pxMy fascination with apes and monkeys began with dreams of studying chimpanzees in Africa, like the legendary Dr. Jane Goodall, who created a decades-long, first-of-its-kind ethological study of wild chimpanzees in the mountains of Gombe National Park (Tanganyika). In Africa, apes and monkeys suffer unspeakable horrors at the hands of poachers. But the nightmarish suffering of our close cousins, these incredibly intelligent monkeys and the apes, isn’t just on the other side of the world. These sensitive animals are used in gruesome experiments in the U.S., as depicted in Lydia Millet’s story “Love in Infant Monkeys,” a fictional account of real-life tests inflicted on monkeys by the infamous Harry Harlow.

In the 1950s, Harlow had the idea to separate newborn monkeys from their mothers and expose them to trauma and terror. The goal was to measure the value of “love” between mother and child. These experiments came amidst other cruel tests, like boiling live rats, pinning the legs of cats together until they withered, cooking the skin of living dogs until it crisped from radiation, and removing the spinal cords of monkeys who were still alive, but immobilized. So Harlow’s tests at the University of Wisconsin, and the psychological torture they inflicted on baby monkeys, were de rigueur within the secretive world of animal experimentation.

love-in-infant-monkeysAn infant monkey was taken from her mother, put it in a box, and her panic noted. First anxiety, shaking, then screams, followed by symptoms of psychological suffering. Then the newborn infant was isolated for 30 days. Had the infant died of starvation, panic, and ceased all movement? Some had; those who had not went back in the box for more deprivation. Other “tests” included adding painful mother “surrogates”—objects with spikes, objects that blast cold wind. The monkeys, terrified by their isolation and abandonment, would cling to even these “bad” and painful mothers over no mother at all.

How could these cruel tests on primates continue? The Animal Welfare Act, regulated by the USDA, is the primary law designed to protect animals used for experimentation in laboratories. The law is poorly regulated, rarely enforced, and full of loopholes that allow the cruelest, most unthinkable experiments to continue. That’s why nearly 400,000 people have signed a petition against the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has started up tests similar to Harry Harlow’s decades-old studies. ALDF has also filed a lawsuit against the university over these cruel tests.

Now, 20 newborn rhesus macaques are taken from their mothers on their first day of life and kept in a barren box, with only a stuffed “surrogate” and bottle for comfort. The infants undergo anxiety-inducing experiences, including unfamiliar “human intruders” and live snakes. Their blood and cerebrospinal fluid will be repeatedly harvested, and they will be subjected to invasive brain scans. The aim is to cause such severe trauma that their brain chemistry will have changed before the age of one. By 18 months, they will be killed.

In “Love in Infant Monkeys,” the reader sees Harlow, after his tests, stumbling drunkenly through a faculty party, only to end in the lab, where he sees the monkeys he’s broken psychologically. Later, the man who had remorselessly dismissed the suffering of monkeys is visited by nightmares, much like Ebenezer Scrooge, but here featuring the utter grief of the mother monkeys.

“He saw each infant in the heart of its mother, precious, unique, held so close because the mother was willing to die for [him]… All she wanted was the safety of her infant. She would chew off her feet for it. She would do anything… When he took the baby from her arms, her panic rose so high it could rise no higher; if she knew how to beg she would beg till the end of the world, scream until her throat split. Give me my baby back.

And in this way, Lydia Millet’s story offers us an imaginative look into the souls of the mother monkeys, to show just how destructive and unnecessary these tests are. Maternal deprivation is torture.

“Love in Infant Monkeys” is the title story from a collection by Lydia Millet—a Pulitzer prize finalist, Salon Best Fiction of the Year for 2009, and a Los Angeles Times Favorite Fiction of 2009—featuring encounters between animals and celebrities, from David Hasselhoff to Madonna to Thomas Edison. Lydia has also written nine novels, including the brand new Mermaids in Paradise. She is the staff writer for the Center of Biological Diversity.  Visit her website for more books about the lives of animals.

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One thought on “Love in Infant Monkeys

  1. Kathy Novak says:

    Why not do testing on prison inmates on death row??? leave these poor animals alone..

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