Two sisters, one in pink and one in purple, held a sign twice their size as cars passed by in Harvard Square. The poster showed two monkeys in a cage, holding each other tight, and a slogan demanding an end to animal testing.
“This is what they do to animals in laboratories,” their mother explained to the girls.
The family was participating in a protest against Harvard laboratories on Sunday. Other protesters held similar signs in Southborough, where Harvard Medical School’s New England Primate Research Center is located.
They claimed that negligence on the part of Harvard-affiliated researchers at multiple facilities has caused the deaths of a total of nine animals in the past two years. As a result, the protesters are asking the government to suspend animal testing at Harvard.
NEPRC was recently cited by the United States Department of Agriculture for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act—most recently, the October death of a non-human primate. The animal died soon after escaping from its cage, being captured with a net by NEPRC staff, and undergoing an imaging procedure.
The report also cited unsuitable living conditions for non-human primates, noting signs of psychological distress among some primates like hair loss and unusual behavior.
A USDA citation can result in a warning letter to the offending institution or a fine of up to $10,000.
The Medical School offered a statement but repeatedly declined to answer additional questions for this article.
The statement said that Medical School researchers are working to “strengthen their processes” and ensure that they are compliant with animal treatment laws.
In the meantime, animal rights activists question not only the Medical School’s recent track record but also the necessity of some animals as test subjects at all.
AN UNCLEAN RECORD
In the last two years, a total of three non-human primates have died at NEPRC. In addition to the escapee, one animal suffered an anesthesia overdose which led to kidney failure, according to the USDA. The primate was euthanized.
For some protesters, the third death epitomizes mistreatment of animals at Harvard research labs.
On the morning of June 9, 2010, NEPRC personnel transferred non-human primates from their cage unit to a temporary one so that their permanent cages could be cleaned. During the routine cleaning, the cages were sanitized in a mechanical washer with water that reached up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Following the cleaning that day, researchers found a dead animal on the floor of one of the cages.