ALDF Demands Investigation of Injuries, Deaths at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center

Posted on March 27, 2012

Shocking Fatalities Among Monkeys at Lab Prompt Inquiry to Cambridge Public Health Department

For immediate release

Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund

Chimpanzee in a cageCotati, Calif. – The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is asking the Commissioner of Laboratory Animals at the Cambridge Public Health Department to investigate a recent spate of shocking injuries and fatalities among monkeys at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center, which reveal serious violations of animal welfare laws, including the federal Animal Welfare Act and Massachusetts animal cruelty law. The Cambridge Municipal Code requires the city’s Public Health Department to make unannounced inspections of laboratories that test on animals and to sanction the research institution for any violations of animal welfare laws.

In the past two years, a dead monkey was discovered at the bottom of a cage that had gone through a scalding-hot mechanical washer, and systematic neglect at the Primate Research Center has resulted in additional fatalities caused by dehydration, injuries sustained after escaping a cage, and an overdose of anesthetic. Other incidents at the Center during the same period have caused serious injuries.

“The law is only as good as its enforcement,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Cambridge has a unique law that not only allows, but requires the city to be actively involved in the protection of animals in laboratories. It is high time for Cambridge to take action, before any more monkeys die as a result of the likely-criminal pattern of neglect at Harvard’s lab.”

A copy of ALDF’s letter to the Cambridge Public Health Department’s Commissioner of Laboratory Animals follows.

March 27, 2012

Julie Medley, DVM
Commissioner of Laboratory Animals
Cambridge Public Health Department
119 Windsor St. Ground Level
Cambridge, MA 02139
T: (617) 665-3853

Dear Commissioner Medley:

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is a national non-profit organization with more than 100,000 members and supporters that has been working to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system since 1979. We are writing today to call on you to investigate a series of injuries and fatalities at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center.

Recent reports reveal serious violations of animal welfare laws starting in June 2010 when a dead monkey was discovered at the bottom of a cage that had gone through a scalding-hot mechanical washer.[1] Since then, the Center’s neglect has resulted in additional fatalities caused by: dehydration, injuries sustained after escaping a cage, and an overdose of anesthetic.[2] Other incidents at the Center during the same period have caused serious injuries that did not result in death. 3] According to news accounts, another primate recently died but was not reported by the Center.[4] The cause of death for this fifth monkey is still unknown.[5]

These incidents reveal a systematic pattern of inexcusable neglect at the Center resulting in extreme animal suffering. This neglect likely violates standards established by the Massachusetts animal cruelty law[6] and the federal Animal Welfare Act.[7] Evidence of these violations provides sufficient cause to invoke your authority under the Cambridge Municipal Code to investigate and sanction the Center.

Chapter 6.12 of the Cambridge Municipal Code grants your office a unique power to protect animals by penalizing laboratories that violate state and federal animal welfare provisions.[8] In order to ensure that labs comply with such animal welfare provisions, the chapter further provides that you “shall make unannounced visits to inspect animal and research facilities as needed.”[9] Upon discovery of violations, you “shall report any violation” to the executive of the research institution and the institution “shall . . . be punished by a fine of three hundred dollars per violation per day.”[10] This ordinance not only authorizes you to investigate the animal neglect at the Center but also imposes a duty to do so.

The USDA’s persistent failure to adequately enforce the Animal Welfare Act provides further impetus for your office to investigate these primate deaths. The USDA has merely recommended changes or imposed nominal fines to “enforce” the Animal Welfare Act in other situations involving similar violations.[11]

Accordingly, I call on you to investigate the inexcusable animal neglect at the Center and sanction the Center to the fullest extent under the law. The primate death reported this week comes nearly two years after the scalding death of a monkey in June 2010 and confirms that the Center will not voluntarily remedy the situation on its own. Since the USDA has a poor track record of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act it falls on your office alone to protect primates housed at the Center. Chapter 6.12 of the Cambridge Municipal Code grants your office ample authority to protect the primates and in fact imposes a mandatory duty to do so.

Thank you for your attention in this matter and please know that the Animal Legal Defense Fund stands ready to assist in any way we can.


Stephen Wells, Executive Director

[1] Johnson, Carolyn Y., A third monkey death reported at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center, THE BOSTON GLOBE (Feb. 26, 2012), available online at; Miraval and Robbins, Two Monkeys Die at HMS Research Center, THE HARVARD CRIMSON (March 1, 2012),  available online at
[2] Johnson, supra note 1; Miraval and Robbins, supra note 1; Mullins, Alisa, Urge NIH to Yank Harvard Funding After Monkey Deaths, THE PETA FILES (March 1, 2012), available online at
[3] Johnson, supra note 1.
[4] Petrishen, Brad, Animal activist group files complaint against Primate Center (March 22, 2012), THE METROWEST DAILY NEWS, available online at (last updated March 22, 2012).
[5] Id.
[6] Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 77.
[7] 7 U.S.C. §§ 2131, et seq.
[8] Cambridge Mun. Code § 6.12.040.
[9] Cambridge Mun. Code § 6.12.080 (emphasis added).
[10] Cambridge Mun. Code §§ 6.12.070, 6.12.090 (emphases added).
[11] See Stanley, Valerie, "The Animal Welfare Act and USDA: Time for an Overhaul", 16 PACE ENVTL. L. REV. 103 (1998); Swanson, Katharine M., “Carte Blanche for Cruelty: The Non-Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act”, 35 U. MICH. J.L. REFORM 937 (2001-2002).

15 thoughts on “ALDF Demands Investigation of Injuries, Deaths at Harvard’s New England Primate Research Center

  1. valhalla says:

    The world is a dangerous place -not because of those who do -evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.-Albert Einstein.

  2. percy harbour says:

    “USDA spokesperson David Sacks wrote in an email to The Crimson that the recent primate deaths have put the Medical School on the USDA’s radar because the recent deaths are “not the norm” at research facilities. “We are very concerned with this string of monkey deaths””

    Political jabbering saying absolutely nothing, because at Harvard’s facility apparently these death rates are the norm.

    A $10,000 fine? That should hurt! Harvard spends that in a year on plastic champagne glasses for their parties.

    But I suppose because it’s Harvard after all, they must be neglecting and killing them in the right way …

  3. Terri Hughes says:

    PLEASE STOP the CRUELTY to these poor animals. They have SUFFERED ENOUGH. They where NOT put here on this earth to be experimented on. Wild animals NEED to be in the wild, NOT in cages, zoos OR circuses and definitely, NOT in labs being TORTURED. STOP experimenting on these poor animals. Leave them ALONE. Think about how you would feel if you where locked up in a cage all the time and someone doing experiments on you everyday of your life. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!!!!

  4. Gail says:

    Disgraceful. They do the animals in their supposed “care” a tremendous injustice.

  5. So disturbing. This injustice needs to be immediately remedied.

  6. tom says:

    People who torture & otherwise abuse animals reveal just how SELF-loathing they actually are-whether they are consciously aware of it or not-because anyone who has GENUINE self-esteem will never commit such despicable acts. It is law-NATURAL law.

  7. Patti Higgins says:


  8. LINDA BADHAM says:


  9. j clarkson says:

    animals are better than a lot of people, they usually only attack in fear or defense, whereas some people will do anything to another person for no reason. Some people think they are in power, they will pay one day for all this abuse, there is NO excuse,NONE. They seem to think they have every right, mankind stinks, it really does.

  10. Jacob Dijkstra, M.D. says:

    This situation does not surprise me. When I was collecting signatures for an animal welfare ballot initiative near a well-known university in Cleveland, Ohio, a person I approached declined to sign, stating: “I am a researcher, I do not care about animal welfare”.

  11. CQ says:

    I appreciate the doctor in the above comment telling us about how animal researchers feel toward the animals they use for experimentation. Namely, they feel nothing.

    It cannot be that they don’t have hearts. Each of us is given one, by the great Giver of all good, God.

    So it must be that these researchers, in their endless years of schooling, have been mistaught, or one could say programmed to the point where their once-childlike, once-compassionate hearts are frozen solid.

    It’ll take much thawing to melt them.

    But they’re not hopeless. One day, whether on this earth or later in life (which must be eternal, if we’re all to learn our lessons completely) they’ll come figuratively face to face with a monster in the mirror. So horrified will they be that they’ll fall to their knees, perhaps literally, and beg for forgiveness. As their hearts melt, they’ll also mend. And their ways will amend.

  12. Belinda Compotaro says:

    It’s too terrible for words how little thought is given to the animals by researchers. So much needless suffering.

  13. Nina says:

    It seems to me that some people don’t believe that animals of any kind can feel pain. For a medical institution they should know better than that. Animals have all the same parts as humans. The eat, sleep, breath, give birth, deficate, see, hear, etc. the same as we do sometimes even better than we do. So why then can’t they feel pain? They should know better. Poor creatures! How often does a human go thru a scalding hot bath of any kind. What do the students learn from that? Absolutely nothing! Research centers everywhere I’m ashamed of you. You are supposed to be the smartest people in the world. PLEASE – wake up!

  14. Barbara Hegedus says:

    I have often been asked why I have more respect for “other” animals than I do my own species. THIS STORY IS A GOOD EXAMPLE WHY!

  15. Lauren says:

    I work daily in the rescue and re-homing of abandoned, abused and starved cats and dogs. I have seen both the worst and the best of human nature. We live in a world where everything is expendable including our animals. I think all researchers should be made to volunteer and work with the very animals they are abusing and killing needlessly, there are many sanctuaries and zoos that always need help, this should be mandatory.Once they realize what beautiful, intelligent animals primates are maybe they would think about the evil they are inflicting on these poor souls and treat them with love and caring. How vicious to boil a primate to death it just sickens me to even imagine the type of pain and horror this poor animal went through before finally dying. Lauren Phillips

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