The New Iberia Research Center director Thomas Rowell, D.V.M., reported May 31 on the negligent deaths of three rhesus monkeys at the facility, which violates the daily observation regulations of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“When you have a situation, a horrible accident like this, it’s very difficult to cope with and understand,” said Babette Fontenot, D.V.M, NIRC director of the division of behavioral sciences. “It takes a lot of self-questioning and review of how did we allow this to happen? There’s a lot of self-criticism involved in it.”

The center is involved in assessing the causes of the incident, which is the first of a three-phase process of reconciling for the monkeys’ deaths. The assessment will be followed by corrective action and accountability, Rowell said.

“Bottom line: Those three animals did not receive the level of care they were accustomed to,” Rowell said.

In a complaint submitted by Michael Budkie, director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, as well as in the USDA inspection report, the three monkeys were said to be found trapped in a chute in one of the outdoor breeding colonies.

When found, the animals were autolyzed, meaning they had begun to decompose.

According to Budkie, the time lapse that the animals’ condition indicated reveals qualification lapses and negligence.

In 2010, the center was cited for deficiencies found in a 2009 investigation, and fined $18,000.

Budkie listed 25 other primate deaths from January 2009-December 2010 in a complaint to the USDA, insisting on further investigation of the causes, which included trauma, necrosis and septicemia among others.

Rowell said trauma deaths are relatively common among the primate colonies, which are wild.

He said the colonies have a social order, which is sometimes challenged by a colony member and lead to fights and trauma. Rowell said of the 6,500 primates at the center, they expect to lose 3-6 percent every year.

“If it was involving (employee) issues as in this case, we would have self-reported those issues,” said Rowell in regard to the additional allegations. “If there is a lack of appropriate care that results in the illness or death of an animal, we report it.”

Rowell said it is likely that there were a series of failures that led to the incident. He also said he hopes in the coming weeks to speak with certainty about corrective action they’ll make in response to the assessment.

Fontenot said it will be a process to reach a level of confidence that they have implemented every measure to make sure this does not happen again.

“This has never happened to us in the history of the facility, and we would expect for it never to happen again,” said Fontenot.

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