Experts Condemn Treatment of Monkeys at Wisconsin Primate Center

Experts agree with PETA: The Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC)—where workers were seen isolating monkeys inside barren metal cages, separating babies from their mothers, and electroshocking male monkeys’ genitals—is a depraved hellscape for animals.

Here is a small sampling of remarks made by primatologists, medical doctors, and animal behaviorists about the WNPRC’s treatment of monkeys.

“These scenes [from the WNPRC] show a harshly bleak living environment for these monkeys. The cages—of course, cold metal and sterile—don’t even have a solid floor. The occasional flashes of color in plastic toys only accentuates the hellscape. The point I want to make is that even before observing the scenes of how the monkeys are being treated, and had in the past been treated, the viewer understands that these primates who reason, and who experience emotions deeply, are traumatized. They are in their cages stripped of any autonomy; their small space can be invaded and is invaded at any moment for distressing things to happen, which sets up a situation of either continued heightened stress and vigilance, or despair at what cannot be changed. The fact that macaque mothers experience this immense stress not only for their own well-being, but for the well-being of their infants, makes for a double load of trauma.

Whether or not it’s agreed that no monkeys should be held in biomedical laboratories to undergo experiments—this is how I feel, and I base this on strong evidence that using primate models is bad science, yielding vanishingly little help to human health—it’s demonstrably clear that this lab does not care properly for its primate ‘subjects.’ To allow monkeys to sink into abject despair, or to pace endlessly after 20 years of chronic diarrhea, is outside the bounds of even minimal care for life. In short, these monkeys suffer both because of their laboratory captivity and because they live in ways far, far removed from what could ever be considered minimally acceptable for primates held in laboratories.

Whatever experiments may be conducted using these monkeys … are severely compromised to the degree that the results are biologically/medically/scientifically useless. It is extra painful to realize that, on top of knowing these monkeys should never be experimental subjects in the first place, because the monkeys are so very anxious, and/or physically traumatized, their entire biological/psychological systems are altered to the point where they cannot be a “model” of anything other than … trauma. In other words, not only is the cost to these monkeys sky high, unacceptably high across the board, the supposed “greater good” that is the usual laboratory rhetoric fails—the evidence is right before our eyes that this isn’t good science, as well as being critically unethical science.”

—Barbara J. King, Ph.D.
Emerita Professor of Anthropology, College of William & Mary


“There is no question that the circumstances [documented at the WNPRC] reveal a litany of welfare issues and evidence of direct animal suffering. These videos capture what I would consider all too typical images of stereotypies and indicators of fear found in captive monkeys raised in impoverished physical and social laboratory environments. These behaviors are indicators of distress and inadequate rearing experiences. That these issues are not examples of unusual circumstances reveals a picture of the baseline amount of distress and suffering that is experienced in the captive laboratory environment by the animals. Adding to this baseline the effects of direct experimental participation provides a deeply concerning picture of the welfare costs of nonhuman primate research on the animals involved. The need for the formal expression of moral concern for the sentient and vulnerable and for valid and reproducible research outcomes instantiate the need for experimental animal alternatives.”

—John P. Gluck, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor, Department of Psychology, University of New Mexico and Affiliate Faculty, The Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University


Dr Ramakrishna“Forcibly removing an infant from a mother is a traumatic experience, which has long-term effects on mental health. Human children who are separated from their primary caregiver under similar circumstances will often have dysfunctional social relationships as adults. The level of risk increases every time such a separation occurs. These effects are nearly impossible to reverse …. Self-injurious behaviors are a last-ditch attempt to escape severe psychological distress. Long-term confinement of a caged animal is comparable to solitary confinement in human prison systems. It is not surprising that extreme environmental deprivation would result in self-injury. Physical separation from one’s mother as an infant, whether temporary or permanent, is another risk factor likely to result in self-injurious behaviors later in life …. Trichotillomania, or hair-pulling as a method of self-injury, is a recognized psychiatric disorder. In this case, it would likely be preventable if the animals were housed in an environment which was less restrictive and allowed them to display natural behaviors.”

—Sujatha Ramakrishna, M.D.
Pediatric Psychiatrist


“While watching video footage from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, the line that came to mind was a comment by Dr. James Mahoney, the head veterinarian at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP): “Once you put them in a cage, it’s all downhill from there.” The basic underlying foundational issue is that cage. From there you see this particular cage system is a major stress inducer, the size, the design, and the lack of any control or escape routes or ways to control their own environment or get away from the stress is huge and very troubling right from the start. Day after day after day.”

—Bob Ingersoll
Primatologist, Project Nim and Adviser, Oklahoma Primate Sanctuary


“This footage provides glimpses into a primate facility that has rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) maintained indoors in standard housing. There are four main components of psychological well-being for primates. Primates need comfort, challenge, companionship, and control. This video clip suggests that none of those basic needs are being met. The caging is bare, the noise in the rooms deafening, with monkeys warehoused in cages on top of each other. There is no evidence of natural lighting and callous treatment by staff render this a profoundly, soul and body crushing environment. … Astonishingly, this facility appears to continue to raise infants in isolation. The monkeys in this facility have no control over who they live with, what they eat, where they sleep, or whether they will get to keep their infants. The only thing that these monkeys can control is what they do to their own bodies …. [M]any have pulled out their hair in a desperate attempt to manifest some sense of control, to have something to do while confined to these tiny metal boxes. The complete disregard for the psychological well-being of these monkeys is on stark display by the mother, who is completely bald but still maintained in the facility, a likely reflection of her value as a “breeder.””

—Lisa Jones-Engel, Ph.D.
Primatologist and Senior Science Adviser on Primate Experimentation, PETA


The monkeys tormented in experiments at the WNPRC deserve better. All animals in laboratories deserve better. That’s why it’s our job to help end this cruelty by telling the National Institutes of Health to stop funding this hellhole.

Help Monkeys in WNPRC’s Labs

Take Action!