Doctors Group To File Complaint Against Harvard Primate Research Center

A group of doctors claims Harvard University has violated the Endangered Species Act by killing and harming cotton-top tamarin monkeys at its primate research center.

As WBUR’s Monica Brady-Myerov reports for our Newscast unit:

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine will file a complaint Thursday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The group wants the agency to force the Harvard lab to release an estimated 167 cotton top-tamarin monkeys to sanctuaries.

The monkeys are critically endangered, says Dr. Marge Peppercorn.

“There is an exception to the Endangered Species Act where animals can be used for research, but they need to have permits, and as best as we could figure out we have no record of Harvard having such permits,” Peppercorn said.

Two cotton-top tamarins have died at the lab over the past two years.

Update at 2 p.m.: In a statement, Harvard Medical School denies that research is being done on cotton top-tamarins:

The New England Primate Research Center has maintained one of the few breeding colonies of cotton-top tamarins in the country. Research is not being conducted on these animals, and efforts are underway to permanently relocate them to other institutions, such as wildlife preserves or sanctuaries. The ethical treatment and welfare of these and all animals remain among our highest concerns.

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  • Sarannh

    Wow, this is awful! Harvard, of all places, is doing this? Research on animals is bad enough but I can’t believe they are using endangered species. I”m glad someone is doing something about this. Tamarins are so cute and I don’t know how they would be similar enough to humans for any translatable studies. 

    • M.K

      Actually, tamarins have been an integral part of several important
      research studies including chronic ulcerative colitis and Inflammatory
      Bowel Disease, colonic adenocarcinoma, Epstein Barr virus, etc.
      If you’re really curious, research the facts.

  • PennyN

    Not being entirely sure what a tamarin is, I needed to Google them. They’re very small primates, but they’re absolutely adorable. Aside from the initial cuteness factor, they’re endangered–so they need to be preserved. Common sense. How are these experiments not absolutely and utterly illegal? How has Harvard gotten away with this for so long? This raises a lot of questions. 
    I second Sarannh’s disbelief that Harvard, of all places, is doing something like this. One would hope that such a prestigious school would know better.

  • John Pippin, MD

    At least seven nonhuman primates, including two cotton-top tamarins, have died of malfeasance or neglect at Harvard facilities in the last two years. One tamarin was left in his cage when it was sent through a cage washer, which delivered 180 degree F water with harsh detergents at the force of a water cannon for twenty minutes. Another died when he was left without water. And the tamarins are used in pointless research, such as studying whether they communicate in louder voices when there is background noise.

    The background noise that needs to end is Harvard’s holier-than-thou claims that these are regrettable accidents occurring in the course of important research. Neither claim is true. The tamarins should be released to sanctuaries, and Harvard should face stiff penalties for harming and killing critically endangered animals.

    • Henry

      The monkey you are talking about going through the washer was a decesed baby hiddent in a nest.  Yes, the nest should have been checked, but want to clarify this monkey was not alive.

    • M.K

       Actually, tamarins have been an integral part of several important research studies including chronic ulcerative colitis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, colonic adenocarcinoma, Epstein Barr virus, etc.

  • T.K.

    Let me get this straight: Tamarins are super cute, tiny, innocent,
    ENDANGERED animals but Harvard is hurting and KILLING them. How is this
    allowed? I think if more people knew about this it would not continue but I’m
    sure Harvard has tried to keep in under-wraps. Thanks, WBUR and the physicians
    group for spreading the word about this horrible use of an endangered species. (Image from Wikipedia)

    • M.K.

       LOL….That’s not a cotton top tamarin!

  • Humane Human

    Nice work Harvard! You continue to show us how doing wrong gets us no where. What world do we live in where ENDANGERED species can be used for research??? You’ve successfully killed 1.1% of this population. I know that doesn’t seem like much. If that occurred at the human level, we would be flipping out. Then again, this is OUR planet right? We shouldn’t consider wildlife into that figure. You are against the killing of tigers and elephants for sport, and this is NO different. How silly of us to think animals are equal and we can do whatever we want to them. Let’s get real. Release these animals to sanctuary, immediately.

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