Revealed: Nasa killed all 27 monkeys held at research center on single day in 2019
Photo: Jean-François Monier / AFP / Getty Images
Every monkey held by NASA was killed in a single day last year, according to Guardian documents, which infuriated animal rights campaigners.
A total of 27 primates were euthanized by medication on February 2 last year at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. The monkeys were aging and 21 of them had Parkinson's disease, according to documents released under freedom of information laws.
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The decision to kill the animals instead of taking them to a sanctuary was condemned by animal rights activists and other observers.
The primates "suffered from the ethological deprivations and frustrations inherent in laboratory life," said John Gluck, an expert on animal ethics at the University of New Mexico. Gluck added that the monkeys “apparently were not considered worthy of a chance at sanctuary life. Not even a try? Disposal instead of expressing simple decency. Shame on those responsible. "
Kathleen Rice, a representative of the US House of Representatives, has written to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to request an explanation of the deaths.
Rice, a New York Democrat, said she urged US government researchers to consider "humane retirement policies" for animals used in research. "I look forward to an explanation from Administrator Bridenstine on why these animals were forced to waste and euthanize in captivity instead of living their lives in a sanctuary," Rice told the Guardian.
Nasa has had a long relationship with primates. Ham, a chimpanzee, received daily training before becoming the first great ape to be launched into space in 1961. He successfully completed his brief mission before splashing safely into the sea.
However, the monkeys that were euthanized last year were neither used in daring space missions nor for research purposes. Instead, they were housed at the Ames facility under a joint care agreement between NASA and LifeSource BioMedical, a separate drug research unit that rents space in the center and houses the primates.
Stephanie Solis, executive director of LifeSource BioMedical, said the primates were turned over to the lab "years ago" after no refuge for them was found due to their age and poor health. "We agreed to accept the animals as a haven and care for them at our own expense until their advanced age and declining health led to the decision to humanely euthanize them to avoid a poor quality of life," she said.
Solis said the primates were not tested during their stay in Ames and that they were given a "good remaining quality of life".
In recent years, the US government has begun phasing out the use of primates in research. The National Institutes of Health made a landmark decision in 2015 to retire all chimpanzees used in biomedical studies. Critics of the practice argue that it is immoral and cruel to subject highly intelligent, social beings so similar to humans to such conditions.
However, other laboratories continue to use monkeys in large numbers - a record of 74,000 was used in experiments in 2017 - with scientists claiming they are far better than other animals like mice at studying diseases that affect humans too.
Even when monkeys are retired for research, the task of housing them in appropriate sanctuaries still turns out to be accidental.
"What tragic thoughts those lives were," said Mike Ryan, spokesman for Rise for Animals, the group that received freedom of information about Ames primate deaths. "Nasa has many strengths, but when it comes to animal welfare practices, they are out of date."
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