The nonprofit animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is pouncing on a local incident involving a missing monkey from the Wake Forest Primate Center, to make their case overall against medical testing on animals.
"Any medical experiment on any animal is legal, no matter how invasive, painful or duplicative it is, as long as the right paperwork is filled out," said Justin Goodman, associate director of laboratory investigations for PETA. "Under current laws, this is all legal, but whether it is ethical is another question."
An 8-pound macaque monkey escaped two barriers in the center on Friday and has been on the run in the Clemmons area ever since. Forsyth County animal control officers and workers from the center have been searching for the monkey, setting traps with food and following leads as residents in neighborhoods have reported several sightings. Officials have warned residents not to interact with the monkey if they come across it.
Late in the day Wednesday, the monkey still had not been found.
Animal control officer Joey Bowman saw the monkey perched on a tree limb about 100 feet up Monday night near Clemmons and tried to capture it by shooting it with a tranquilizer rifle, but the darts could not reach that far up.
Bowman said Wednesday that he has not heard of any other sightings of the monkey. Animal control officers are working with primate center officials to monitor the traps on a 24-hour basis.
Bowman said officials are focused on capturing the monkey in the most humane way possible.
The 16-year-old monkey came to the primate center in 2008 as a breeding monkey, Wake Forest officials said earlier this week.
"Being inside a primate center is a miserable existence for a monkey," Goodman said in an interview from his Los Angeles office. "The mothers have very strong bonds with their babies, and they live in social groups. Wake Forest is forcing these mothers to conceive, and then tearing their babies away from them and shipping them off. And when they can no longer breed, they are killed."
Wake Forest officials did not return several phone calls on Tuesday and Wednesday seeking comment on PETA's comments and allegations.
PETA on Tuesday filed a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees primate centers, urging them to investigate possible violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including failure to ensure that the primate housing is safe and secure.
"Whenever a primate escapes from a facility, this indicates either a failure of equipment or staff, or usually a combination of both," Goodman said.
From time to time, monkeys have been known to escape from various primate centers across the country. One escaped from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta in 2011 and was never caught. Nine monkeys escaped from the Oregon National Primate Research Center in 2009; some were found and brought back. One escaped from the California National Primate Research Center in Davis in 2003 and was never found.
"No primate wants to be locked in a laboratory and, when they have an opportunity to escape, they take it," Goodman said.
The website for Wake Forest's primate center says that staff at the center "use nonhuman primates to study six of the 10 major causes of death in the United States."
"Our investigators take advantage of the fact that these species share much of the humane genome, they are vulnerable to the chronic and degenerative diseases comprising the majority of the human health burden, and their response to therapeutic interventions resembles those observed in people," the website says.
Goodman said primates "are like us in all ways that matter."
"They feel joy and sadness and pain. They want the companionship of others. If it's wrong to do those things to humans, it's wrong to do those things to our primate cousins."
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