Monkey escape: USDA to ‘look into’ primate breakout at Yemassee facility
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ACTION ALERT:

Contact  Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
Director, USDA, Eastern Region
(919) 855-7100
Betty.J.Goldentyer@aphis.usda.gov
aceast@aphis.usda.gov

SAMPLE MESSAGE:

Please terminate the animal dealer license of Alpha Genesis and levy the MAXIMUM FINE against the Alpha Genesis research facility for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act because their ineptitude has killed and injured dozens of monkeys. Their negligence also allowed multiple primate escapes. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

 

Monkey escape: USDA to ‘look into’ primate breakout at Yemassee facility By Wade Livingston, IslandPacket.com, May 2, 2016

Some of Alpha Genesis’ monkey habitats are roof-less, tin corrals, which facility hopes to phase out....19 rhesus macaque monkeys figured out how to scale bent metal walls....

Research facility uses some animals for on-site HIV-vaccine testing and has monkeys with dangerous Herpes B virus

Bent portions of the tin walls surrounding an outdoor monkey habitat allowed 19 primates to get loose at a Yemassee research and breeding facility.

Greg Westergaard, president and CEO of the Alpha Genesis facility, said Monday morning that the tin wall of the monkeys’ 40-foot-by-40-foot “corral” had begun to bow. That bowing created a corner with a ledge in the oval-shaped corral, and the monkeys used the ledge to scale the 12-foot-high walls and escape Sunday afternoon.

“You could say someone should have noticed that tin starting to bow,” he said. “The focus now is on inspecting the remaining corrals and doing some preventative maintenance.”

Roof-less tin corrals comprise about a quarter of the habitats that are home to the facility’s 3,000 monkeys. But Westergaard is trying to phase them out. Chain-link-fence enclosures — with a chain-link roof — offer a more secure environment, he said.

Security has been an issue in the past.

Westergaard said Alpha Genesis has been the subject of an ongoing U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation he believes stemmed from the 2014 escape of 26 monkeys at the company’s Yemassee location, and another instance that same year when a single monkey escaped from its Early Branch site. That lone monkey has never been recovered.

Tanya Espinosa, spokesperson for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, wrote in an email Monday that Alpha Genesis is the subject of an “open investigation” but declined to comment further. The USDA is aware of Sunday’s escape, she said, and “will be looking into it in order to determine whether there were any Animal Welfare Act noncompliances that contributed to this incident.”

Animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint with the USDA on Monday and asked the agency to investigate the matter. Another organization, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, has called for the termination of Alpha Genesis’ animal dealer license.

Alpha Genesis is both a breeding and research facility. It does genetic testing on monkeys it sells to buyers who use them for immunological research. And it uses monkeys on site to develop HIV vaccines.

The monkeys involved in HIV vaccine development are kept indoors in “quarantine,” Westergaard said, explaining those enclosures are more controlled and secure than Alpha Genesis’ outdoor tin corrals.

Westergaard said about 10 to 15 percent of the facility’s monkeys have Herpes B. If a monkey with that virus were to bite a person, it could have dangerous health consequences, he said.

Most of the infected monkeys live in covered enclosures. But some live in the same type of habitat from which the 19 rhesus macaque monkeys escaped.

Although none of the monkeys that escaped during the weekend had Herpes B, according to Westergaard, that doesn’t alleviate Michael Budkie’s concerns.

Budkie, Stop Animal Exploitation Now’s executive director, calls Alpha Genesis “a hell hole.”

“I would say that Alpha Genesis is one of — if not the — worst primate research facilities in the nation,” Budkie said during a phone interview Monday morning.

Budkie cited security concerns as well as several instances The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette have reported, including the August 2015 death of a monkey that was introduced into the wrong social group and died from injuries sustained in a fight.

Westergaard said Budkie’s complaints are well known and not solely directed at his facility.

“It’s not as though everybody can be ‘the worst,’ ” Westergaard said. “It’s a highly regulated industry. ... There is a standard that’s established and we hit all those marks quite nicely.”

Monkey escapes happen every couple of years, Westergaard said, but usually involved just one or two monkeys.

When monkeys escape, Alpha Genesis notifies the Yemassee Police Department “as a courtesy,” he said. The animals usually return to their corrals in a day or two, lured back with fruit and molasses.

“These monkeys are clean,” he said, adding they’re “about the size of a large house cat.”

“They’ve been vaccinated for about everything you could imagine — no pathogens that are harmful to anyone.”

There were 21 total monkeys living in the tin corral from which the breakout originated. Two of them never left.

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