Harvard suspends new experiments after fourth monkey dies in Southborough

by susan on February 29, 2012

Yesterday I told you the USDA would be taking a hard look at the Harvard-owned New England Primate Research Center after a monkey died under questionable circumstances in December – the third primate death in 19 months. Today comes word that a fourth monkey died on Sunday, the very day the USDA released their report.

The Boston Globe reports Harvard has suspended all new experiments at the primate center on Parmenter Road. The most recent death of an elderly cotton top tamarin monkey is still being investigated, but dehydration was likely a contributing factor. Dehydration from a malfunctioning water bottle was also fingered in the death of a spider monkey in December.

From the Globe:

Three of the deaths have occurred since October, despite a change in the center’s leadership the previous month after a comprehensive review found evidence of insufficient oversight and gaps in following basic procedures.

After returning from an hourslong visit to the primate center yesterday, Dr. Jeffrey Flier, Harvard Medical School’s dean, said that Sunday’s death was “utterly shocking’’ and that immediate actions are being taken to protect animals.

You can read the full article here, including more of what Harvard has to say about the latest incident.

1 carrie alpert February 29, 2012 at 9:09 AM

love to see as much outrage about this situation as the MCAS scores seeing as a living creature died due to the fact that it’s water bottle was malfunctioning. The center is ill run and a complete atrocity. The leadership is shoddy and Dr. Flier best get his act together lest he has PETA and other organizations swarming his entire campus and office and our town.

that is all

2 resident February 29, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Here, here Carrie. In addition though, it puts all residents of Southborough at risk especially those close to the center, to extremist animal rights activists. It was not too long ago that we heard there was just such a person suspected to be in this area. The poor animals are dying a long, slow death due to dehydration. It makes me sick to think what these animals have gone through. I understand the need for testing but this has nothing to do with that. It is just a shame and shouldn’t have taken so long for this place to be shut down. Let’s hope there are some huge fines on the horizon for the center. Maybe then they will learn.

3 carrie alpert March 3, 2012 at 12:19 PM

to your point my in-laws live directly behind it and i 100% agree with your points. I am an animal rights activists but not an extremists but those who are, well–are extreme. And i unabashedly support their feelings but not their violence.
the animals have and continue to suffer and as a town we have a responsibility to help them–by shutting the center down if Harvard is not going to run it at a humane level.

i welcome anyone to message me so that i can help

4 resident too March 4, 2012 at 1:37 PM

NERPRC has been in the woods on the hill since 1966. Good luck getting them out. And keep in mind that lots of folks, myself included, don’t like the thought of animal experimentation, yet some of their accomplishments over the years are what keep us alive today.

5 concerned March 4, 2012 at 6:35 PM

Many important strives forward in science have come at the cost of animals in labs. However, the scientific community at large has agreed that certain standards of care must be met to ethically proceed with animal experimentation. The facility in our town does not meet these agreed upon standards by a long shot. This facility’s recent record has catapulted it to one of the worst offenders in the country. Please understand that this is not the norm and this sort of thing does not happen in most animal laboratories in our country. Allowing primates to die from not giving them water is not an accomplishment of science or helping to extend our lives. It is neglect. The repeated neglect occurring at this center have put this facility in the limelight. Is this what we want our town to be known for? I’m not sure that “getting (NERPRC) out” is a reasonable or neccessary goal. But I would like some more information about a highly controversial facility in my town. What sort of experiments are being done there? What changes are they making to ensure lab animal safety and ethical treatment in the future? How is our safety ensured? Does our town intend to make any sort of statement or note of concern, or do we collect their tax money and turn a blind eye? This is not the kind of national press or reputation that we want for our town.

6 carrie alpert March 5, 2012 at 7:35 AM

exactly. I agree with EVERYTHING you say *concerned* citizen and i do not know HOW to get that information.
I would add that if a “scientist” cannot provide a functioning water bottle to an animal in order for that animal to not dehydrate I really cannot be convinced that any type of reasonable conclusion from a hypothesis is being garnered from any experiment. I also am hesitant to use the word scientist…..
I also do feel that at this time the center should be shut down until it shows that it can be open and not the other way around.

7 susan March 5, 2012 at 8:37 AM

For the record, as a tax-exempt non-profit institution, Harvard does not pay any property tax to the the town of Southborough for the 87 acres they own. For the past five years they have made an $18K annual PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) donation to the town (I don’t know the amount of any donations made prior to that). They also donated $50K over 5 years toward the purchase of Southborough’s new ladder truck.

8 carrie alpert March 5, 2012 at 8:53 AM

and in 2009 they received a 5.1 million federal stimulus and ended up staffing their facility with human beings who could not operate it so that primates did not get their limbs caught in cage doors (repeatedly) and an elderly one died due to the fact that it was *missing a water bottle.
those are the facts.
if you want to find the cure for AIDS, Cancer or another disease that is one discussion–to receive over 5 million dollars in federal stimulus and not be coherent enough to keep the animals alive with water is erogenous and a member of this community I am outraged.

9 Mark Ford March 5, 2012 at 1:19 PM

Carrie, allow me to (hopefully) state the obvious…erogenous is a typo, right?

10 Happy Camper March 6, 2012 at 12:24 PM

…especially in light of the Federal “stimulus” money.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled G rated blog ;)

11 Pat Q March 6, 2012 at 7:59 AM

Thanks for the best laugh I’ll have today. :)

12 Carrie March 6, 2012 at 4:58 PM

Yes! And I even enjoyed the laugh at my own expense ;) you may now carry on with your regularly scheduled programming….

13 Helen March 6, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Maybe instead of “suspending all experiments” they should consider giving the poor creatures some water…

If anyone in this state had 4 animals die under neglectful circumstances, you’d be darn sure that SOMEONE would remove the rest of the animals under their care. There’s no excuse for letting any creature die because no one bothered to make sure they had water!

14 John Kendall March 6, 2012 at 2:33 PM

Being a former firefighter here in Southborough, I responded numerous times to the Primate Research Center. While I don’t endorse what is done there, I respect the people who work there and the jobs they do. I can honestly say that I never saw any animal being tortured or purposely being dehydrated. In fact when we would respond there for incidents whether accidental alarms, small fires, or medicals (people, not animals), the animal handlers and research staff always made sure the animals were well taken care of before they would leave. I think what has happened here recently is truly an anomaly and not a regular example of how things are run at the New England Regional Primate Research Center. As far as the administrator stepping down, while I don’t know everything about human resources, it seems to me it’s a nice way of saying “You’re Fired”. Hopefully things will be turned around and they will be able to get back to their research.

15 Mark Ford March 6, 2012 at 4:55 PM

Thanks John. It’s important to note that many folks there care about the animals…

16 concerned March 7, 2012 at 11:27 PM


It’s encouraging to hear that you saw proper care during a few visits to the center. However, as a former firefighter in Southborough, I suspect you held yourself to a higher standard. The Southborough fire department has an outstanding reputation. If you and your fellow firefighters neglected to respond to a few fires, however, I might say that despite that not being your “norm”, that there would be a serious problem with the town’s fire department. I’m sure many, if not all of the employees “care” about the animals in their care. However, 4 deaths due to neglect is not an anomoly. It is repetitive neglect and it is abnormal for animal laboraties within our country. I don’t imply intent, but systems are clearly not in proper working order. I hope that things will turn around as well, but in the meantime (since this is happening in our own backyard) shouldn’t the town request some information and answers. I believe it is owed to us as a courtesy. Susan, is this something you might be able to report on? Town officials, is this something you might be able to turn some attention to? What is your take on Southborough being named in coverage of these events on NBC and other world news outlets? Like it or not we are associated with this facility in our town. Shouldn’t they provide us with some answers? Shouldn’t we be asking some questions?

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