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University of Utah under fire from animal rights group over monkey deaths

USDA inspection reports said animals overheated in cages and others died after botched surgeries.

(Rick Egan | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) A Common marmoset walks along the edge of the terrace on Sugarloaf Mountain, in Rio de Janeiro, Thursday, August 4, 2016. The University of Utah received two critical citations from the USDA in one report issued in October 2020, including one for the deaths of marmoset monkeys that became trapped in their nest box within their cage in August.

The University of Utah is under fire from an animal rights group over United States Department of Agriculture inspection reports that say laboratory monkeys died of “overheating and distress” in their cages and after surgical procedures.

Michael Budkie, the head of Ohio-based animal welfare nonprofit Stop Animal Exploitation Now, which advocates against animal experiments, called inspection reports issued to the University of Utah disturbing. He said the SAEN found out about the report because the group routinely files records requests with different government agencies to obtain documents about animal testing facilities.

The University of Utah received two critical citations from the USDA in one report issued in October 2020. The critical citations occurred during a “focused inspection,” which is an inspection that occurs after a complaint or allegation of a problem, as opposed to a routine inspection.

One was for the deaths of marmoset monkeys that became trapped in their nest box within their cage in August. The door closed and they were stuck for 18 hours, dying of overheating and distress. The USDA said primate enclosures must be made so they protect animals from harm.

The university also received a critical citation for the deaths of two monkeys after surgical procedures. One of those surgeries was in September 2019, when a catheter insertion was attempted several times in a male monkey before it was successful. The result was bruising around the monkey’s thigh and at the catheter site. The monkey’s left rear leg was swollen after the surgery and he was dragging it. The next morning the monkey was found dead from clots deep in his veins. Another monkey died in January 2020 because of trauma from being intubated during a surgery.

“The level of negligence that allowed animals to die from botched medical procedures or being trapped in part of their enclosure, those things are just shocking and should never happen,” Budkie said.

The USDA report also noted that eight rabbits at the university underwent a surgery that was not approved beforehand by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).

Dr. Andy Weyrich, the U.’s vice president for research, said in a statement that the university self-reports problems to the IACUC as soon as they occur and to federal agencies when appropriate. He pointed out that the university had implemented corrective actions before the USDA’s inspection, and those corrections were accepted by the USDA.

“As a major research institution, the University of Utah is dedicated to advancing science and medicine to improve the health of people, pets and livestock,” he said in the statement. “Some of the most important work to improve health and well-being involves animal research. The University of Utah is committed to the safe and humane treatment of our research animals, but unfortunate incidents do occur – albeit infrequently. We are committed to transparency and to addressing these situations with swift and immediate actions so that we can prevent future incidents from occurring.”

The monkeys that died were being used for research to cure eye diseases and improve vision, according to spokeswoman Kathy Wilets.

This isn’t the first time that SAEN has targeted the University of Utah for alleged animal mistreatment. The group has also accused the university of negligence over animal deaths in 2015, after a monkey was burned by a heater and died, and in 2017.

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