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Government Investigates Harvard's Primate Research Center

By Mariel A. Klein, Crimson Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the Harvard-run New England Primate Medical Research Center after six monkeys transferred to the Oregon Zoo last May died soon after arriving.

The investigation, reported on Friday by The Boston Globe, is the newest incident involving the primate center, which has also come under fire for more than a dozen other monkey deaths on its Southborough campus since 1999. The most recent inquiry involves the transport of nine cotton-top tamarin primates to Oregon in late May. Six of the animals died two days after arriving at the zoo.

Medical School spokesperson David Cameron declined to give an on-the-record statement, but provided in an email a general statement that he attributed to Harvard Medical School.

“We were deeply saddened to learn about the unfortunate event at the Oregon Zoo related to the cotton top tamarins,” it says. The statement went on to suggest that the animals had not died because of their treatment during the trip.

“The standard and safest method of transporting nonhuman primates in North America is through experienced ground carriers. The carrier is registered with the USDA, and it provided environmentally controlled, door-to-door transportation that met all USDA guidelines,” it continues. “In accordance with the Animal Welfare Act, the animals were observed every four hours during transit, and were provided fresh produce, water and food at intervals that met USDA regulations.”

Operated by the Medical School and affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, the New England Primate Medical Research Center once housed 2,000 monkeys. As it ramped down its efforts, 1,493 primates were scheduled to be sent from Harvard to other facilities by January 2015, according to documents released by the National Institutes of Health after a Freedom of Information Request made by the Harvard Law School Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which shared the documents with The Crimson. The center is set to shut down at the end of May.

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.

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