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Articles and Reports

Cheri Stevens Statement: California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC)

CNPRC / ARS Heater Malfunction – August 2004

In August 2004, a malfunction in the ventilation system at the UC Davis ARS building kicked heat back into a primate housing room which resulted in ending the lives of several primates. Approximately two weeks before the incident, the building was tested by UC Davis‘ maintenance department. Another Animal Technician who was responsible for that area and I were sent there that day by my supervisor to meet the inspectors. The inspectors determined that the systems in each room were functioning improperly. Immediately upon our return to the CNPRC the ventilation system’s failures were reported to our supervisor who said she would report the situation to her boss. The day before the incident, I went to ARS to feed the primate’s their P.M. meal and was the last CNPRC employee in the room to see all of the animals alive.

The following morning around 6:00 am some UC Davis maintenance workers had been there to take care of an unrelated issue related and said later they saw no sign of any malfunctions while they were there.

Around 7:30 am. the same Animal Tech that was with me during the ventilation inspection went to ARS to perform the morning health check, feed animals and complete daily husbandry tasks. The room that malfunctioned was the last room she entered around 8:00. When she went through the first door into the “anti-room” she could feel the heat coming out from the animal room and knew immediately without even entering the room that something was wrong. She panicked, and without entering the room returned to CNPRC. I ran into her when she returned and she seemed to be frantic so I asked her what was wrong. She explained the situation to the animal health tech and to me. We then came up with a plan for both of us to return to ARS where the on-call vet would meet us. When we got to the gate we realized someone would need to wait for the veterinarian because she did not have the security code to the gate that accesses the property.

I left the Animal Tech with the van at the gate to meet the veterinarian and proceeded to the building on foot. When I got to the room, the smells, sights, and heat were almost too much to bear. I tried opening the back door to allow for some ventilation. The door was either stuck or locked so I was unable to open it. I began trying to unlock and open cages to examine the animals more closely and at this point I thought there were not any survivors. At that time I left the room to regain my composure.

I went outside just as the Veterinarian and Animal Tech pulled up to the building. The Veterinarian and I went back into the room and it was discovered that there were two survivors who we transported to the CNPRC. Only one animal survived the incident. The other primate was euthanized due to what I was told was severe brain damage caused by the extreme heat he/she had experienced in the room that morning.

Any animals remaining in ARS building were relocated to CNPRC that day. Despite what we had been told for years, there actually was room for them at the CNPRC. I was aware of this because I found cages for many of them myself. I reported this to the enrichment group but it was disregarded. I was approached by the safety coordinator and was told that if I wanted to discuss what I had seen she would arrange for someone to come and talk to me, but I was not ready to revisit the experience.

It had also been brought to my attention that USDA was onsite to investigate the incident and was requesting to speak with those involved. For some reason I was never questioned on the matter. Having been directly involved in the situation I believe my testimony would have been effective in an accurate assessment of the incident.

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