Officials at an animal testing facility in Sparks say they have improved security and training policies and added new alarm systems after 32 monkeys died May 28 from overheating.
“This was an isolated incident that occurred in a single room at our quarantine facility and no other primates were affected,” Amy Cianciaruso, a spokeswoman for Charles River Laboratories, said in an e-mail. “The death of these primates is a terrible and unfortunate tragedy.”
The primate deaths came to light Thursday when local animal rights activist Coral Amende was tipped off by a Charles River employee.
Cianciaruso said the incident was not made public because the company is concerned for employee safety after the “increased level of extremist activity targeting individuals involved in biomedical research.”
She said the company immediately reported the incident to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
An official from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the organization filed a complaint with the USDA in July after hearing from an anonymous whistle blower that the animals had died.
“The USDA notified us that it had opened an investigation in response to our complaint,” said Kathy Guillermo, director of the laboratory investigations department at PETA.
The USDA could not be reached for comment.
“At this time the USDA is reviewing the incident,” Cianciaruso said. “Nothing of this nature has ever occurred at any Charles River facility in our more than 60-year history.”
Charles River has operated in the area since 1992 with a facility in Sparks and opened another in late 2007 in Reno.
The monkeys that died were Cynomolgus primates, also known as the crab-eating Macaque or long-tailed Macaque, most commonly used in drug development research, Cianciaruso said.
She said research primates come from a variety of geographic sources but those that died were bred in China for scientific research. They are 2 to 4 years old when received and had been in Sparks for less than two weeks.
The CDC requires imported research primates to undergo a quarantine period to ensure they are healthy before use in research studies.
The overheating in quarantine was caused by “several human errors,” despite preventive measures in place, Cianciaruso said. She said an alarm system was in place “but human error failed this system.”
“As a result, corrective measures were identified, implemented and tested,” she said. “These preventive measures provide for multiple redundancies that will preclude the recurrence of a similar event.
“Specifically, we have enhanced security and training policies and we have implemented new state-of-the-art alarm systems.”
She said the company is confident both facilities in Northern Nevada are being operated with “commitment to humane care and the regulatory guidelines that govern our work.”
Amende described the deaths as “horrific.”
“Charles River in general as a corporation has a bad reputation as far as animal abuse goes,” she said. “Thirty-two monkeys is a lot and why on earth weren’t they removed before they died from the heat?”
Amende said the company has called other incidents at the Sparks laboratory accidental.
“I don’t know how long you can hide behind the word ‘accident’ when these things happen,” she said. “Obviously business is not being taken care of at the Sparks lab.”
From Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, 2006, two monkeys snagged fingers in the wiring and a dolly of their cages in the Sparks facility while being moved. Their finertips were amputated and the tip of the tail of a third monkey was cut and treated.
“Charles River has an alarming record,” Guillermo said. “I can only imagine what those animals endured as they died, literally heated to death.”