‘Incompetent’ university lab staff accused of ‘cooking monkey to death’

University staff have been slammed as "incompetent" and accused of illegally killing a monkey by "literally cooking the animal to death".

Animal rights organisation Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) have called for a federal investigation following an external review into the death of monkey being transported by University of California, Davis' (UDC) laboratory workers on May 12. The review found that the monkey died after it was left inside a van for more than an hour as a heater blasted 130F (54C) hot air "directly" into its cage.

According to the review, UCD staff were taking two rhesus macaques monkeys from the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) to a secondary facility for an experiment and loaded them into the van between 8 and 8.15am. Despite the temperature outside being mild that day, the fact-finding review discovered it was around this time that staff members transporting the animals turned on a forced air heating unit mounted above the monkey's steel cages inside the van, which meant "continuously heated air" was blown straight into the cages.

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When they arrived at the facility, one monkey was left behind as the other was taken inside for a procedure. Staff members interviewed for the report said the monkey left inside the van was last observed between 8.45am and 9am but then went unobserved in the hot vehicle for somewhere between 50 to 90 minutes.

When staff finally returned to the van, they found the monkey in a comatose state, with the animal's body temperature measuring an extremely heightened 40.3C even after 30 to 40 minutes of cooling efforts. When the monkey started experiencing seizures vets decided to euthanise it.

A necropsy found the animal had sustained "extensive" lesions on all its organ systems and died from "acute severe hyperthermia leading to euthanasia." In response to the external review, Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), an animal rights nonprofit with a mission to end animal experimentation, has called for all staff responsible for the death to be fired as they claim the monkey was "cooked to death".

In a letter to the UCD chancellor, SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie wrote: "I am writing to you today to insist that you terminate the staff responsible for killing a monkey by literally cooking this animal to death" He also filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), calling for a full federal investigation into the incident.

According to the external review, staff had said the monkey "appeared not to be in distress" when they last saw it. Budkie however said: "I do not find this statement to be credible. If I was in an enclosed space and was subjected to 130-degree forced air for at least half an hour I am quite certain I would be in distress."

In August 2004, the university was handed a $4,815 fine over the death of seven primates as well as a citation for the death of 19 primates in 2009 and 2010, The Davis Vanguard reports. According to a UCD report, the deaths in 2004 were due to a similar incident to the most recent death, when a mechanical failure led to the overheating of the room the animals were being housed in.

Executive Director Budkie urged the USDA to take "severe action", writing: "The incompetence of UCD staff is clear and uncontroverted. Who in their right mind would think it would be acceptable to blow 130-degree air on a primate in an enclosed area for as much as two and a quarter hours? Anyone so utterly oblivious to the actual welfare of these monkeys should never be permitted to work with them again."

Animal rights group PETA also issued a statement on the incident, urging the Yolo County Sheriff's Office to investigate.

"Obscenely incompetent staff at the University of California–Davis killed a monkey by leaving her to roast inside a closed van with a heater blasting 130-degree air directly into her steel cage for up to 90 minutes," the statement read.

"UC-Davis should redirect its resources toward modern, non-animal research methods that don’t kill animals and will actually help humans, and we urge officials there to adopt PETA’s Research Modernization Deal."

UCD and the California National Primate Research Center have been approached for comment.

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