Baby Monkey Torture: Fighting the University of Wisconsin’s Infant Terror Tests

In 2014, the University of Madison-Wisconsin approved controversial “maternal deprivation” tests on baby monkeys, in which researchers proposed to take newborn rhesus macaque monkeys away from their mothers. In such experiments, defenseless baby monkeys are terrorized and exposed to anxiety-inducing stressors including live snakes and the “Human Intruder Test” (in which an unfamiliar researcher intentionally threatens the animals). The babies undergo painful skin-punch biopsies and stressful brain scans. They are killed by the age of two. Yet, painless methods of research that do not involve animal suffering and that better assess the cognitive aspects of anxiety disorders are already available. The cruel methods in UW’s tests are considered redundant and archaic by bioethicists and many in the scientific community.


Baby monkeys like this one will be subjected to pain, fear, and anxiety in these archaic tests.

In spring of 2015, after massive public outcry, UW announced that the planned experiments—the central focus of which was depriving baby monkeys of their mothers—would no longer remove the infants from their mothers, but would still subject all 40 baby monkeys to the same series of tests before killing them at age 1 or 1½ to dissect their brains. However, the revised research protocol raises more questions than it answers. Whereas the previous stated goal was to study the effects of “early adversity”—i.e., maternal deprivation—on the developing brain, researchers now purport to study “the molecular underpinnings of the wide range of individual differences in the development of anxiety.” At a time when the NIH is preparing to review its policies on all nonhuman primate research, at the request of members of Congress concerned about the ethics and oversight of such research, UW’s rationale for inflicting terrible stress, a battery of invasive procedures, and premature death on 40 baby monkeys just doesn’t cut it. Such a proposal merits searching scrutiny and a thorough ethical and scientific justification—justification ALDF finds utterly lacking here.

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ALDF Lawsuit

The University has refused to disclose public records from the federally-mandated animal welfare committee that reviewed and approved this research. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit to compel the University to disclose those records, which could reveal that the committee abandoned its statutory watchdog role of preventing research that inflicts extreme animal suffering for dubious human health gains. In response to ALDF’s lawsuit, Governor Walker tried to slide a provision into the 2015 state budget that would exempt the University from the state’s Open Records Act. However, ALDF and other animal advocates successfully lobbied Wisconsin legislators to get the exemption removed.

Experts Weigh In

“Extensive (and horribly cruel) experiments proving the damaging effects of maternal deprivation and isolation were carried out on rhesus monkeys by Harry Harlow and his students in the 1960s and 1970s… I understand that monkeys are being subjected to what I consider extremely cruel and inhumane experiments at the University of Wisconsin that is funded by public money. I am shocked and saddened that this is so.”—world-renowned primatologist, Jane Goodall

Petition for Change

Hundreds of thousands of people have spoken up for these baby monkeys by signing a petition written by University of Wisconsin-Madison alum Dr. Ruth Decker, M.D, J.D., M.B.A. She writes:

“As an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Medicine, I am horrified to learn that my alma mater plans to conduct highly controversial and cruel experiments that will torture and kill baby monkeys.”

The public has a right to insist that federal tax dollars are not wasted on unnecessary “terror testing” when far more useful and totally painless methods of research are already available. A growing coalition of alumni and students of UW-Madison and other UW system schools, who are deeply concerned with the university’s experiments, have formed the group UW Not In Our Name.

Public Outrage and Backlash

A new video by internet sensation “Randall” of the viral “Honey Badger” video series also blasts UW’s controversial tests on baby monkeys:

Randall told the Animal Legal Defense Fund:

I created this video because I want everyone to know we live in a world which has a very hard time learning from its past. I created this video because I do NOT want my tax dollars funding “baby monkey terror tests.” Experimenting on animals, especially in this day of technology and science, is archaic, disgusting and beyond inhumane.

The university has publicly defended these cruel tests. Read ALDF’s response, setting the record straight about the facts and details of baby monkey torture tests conducted by this public university.

Stay tuned for more information about ALDF’s fight to shut down these unethical and archaic experiments.


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