“These are juveniles, they’re 11 months old when they’re put in these experiments. These monkeys are taken away from their mother, their friends, and brought to this unfamiliar room,” Alka Chandna, vice president of laboratory investigations at the animal welfare organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), says about a cruel experiment done on baby monkeys.
PETA obtained video footage from the Oregon National Primate Research Centre (ONPRC) in the United States, where researchers conducted cruel ‘junk food’ experiments on monkey mothers and their babies.
After feeding pregnant monkeys with a high-fat junk food diet, the babies of these mothers were put in distressing situations. The babies were put in a tiny cage, all alone with no hiding place, and are intimidated by adult humans.
“They’re put in a cage, and just this action causes them tremendous stress. We see that some of the monkeys respond to being put in this distressing situation by clamoring to get out of the cage,” Chandna says. “A human then comes in and will stare at the monkey. And you can see the monkey’s response, they’re terrified, they’re afraid.”
The monkeys look desperately for an escape, but they’re stuck. In the video, a baby Japanese macaque exhibits stereotypic behavior in the tiny cage as he repeatedly goes in circles.
Poor mental health
This behavior is often seen in laboratory primates and indicates poor mental well-being of the animal, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.
Chandna highlights that the distress felt by the individual only gets worse over time: “They’re just young, and some of these monkeys will live in the laboratory for decades. And so if they are already exhibiting this type of extreme psychological distress, you know that as they get older, it’s going to get worse and worse and worse for them.”
She adds that the individuals who are being used for experiments in these facilities are wild animals. Even if they are bred in the laboratories, they have a desire to be free and be with their families.
Monkey research centers are tax-funded
There are seven national primate research centers in the United States, where monkeys are bred for inhumane experiments. ONPRC is one of them. Chandna says there are more than 4,000 monkeys at the center: “These are massive centers where they do all kinds of experimentations, paid for by tax dollars.”
In 2015, a national primate research center that was associated with Harvard University was shut down after violations of federal law were discovered as monkeys were so dehydrated they died, and some had horrible injuries.
Chandna adds that these centers are funded by taxpayer dollars and receive tens of millions of dollars through the National Institutes of Health. According to PETA, the ONPRC received 5.2 million dollars between 2011 and 2019.
Animal testing is not effective
While some might point to animal testing as a way of helping human health, in reality, the biology of a non-human animal is not going to reflect the biology of human beings.
Chandna explains that in the setting of a laboratory, what is observed in these animals, “their biology, their metabolism, their endocrinology, everything is going to be totally different than a corresponding animal of that species in the wild”.
In addition, 95 percent of drugs that test safe and effective in animals are found to be unsafe or ineffective and human beings, she says.
Chandna mentions that better alternatives to animal testing are already available and use technology such as organs-on-chips, 3D bio-printed organs, organoids, and supercomputing based on human biology.
The Animal Reader talked to Alka Chandna, vice president of laboratory investigations at the animal welfare organization PETA about a junk food experiment where babies are intimidated by adult humans.