Two years after a whistleblower revealed unsettling news about conditions at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (see "The Spy Who Loved Monkeys," WW, Feb. 7, 2001), another former employee has gone public with allegations of mishandling of research primates.
Tom Larimer tended to exotic animals at several zoos before taking a job as an animal-care technician at the primate center last November. What the Gulf War veteran saw in his two months in Beaverton prompted him to write a detailed analysis of the center's animal care and forward it to center officials.
In his report, obtained by WW, he writes that ONPRC has "the most insensitive animal handling practices I have witnessed in any organization I have worked."
Larimer's report, written after he was terminated in late December, is not all critical. For example, he praises the center's veterinary care as the best he'd ever seen. But he lambastes the center for forcing animal-care technicians to work so fast that they are unable to tend to the mental state of the animals they work with. Federal law requires that special care be given to the psychological well-being of research primates.
The report accuses some animal-care technicians of using unnecessarily harsh restraint techniques. "I was told by one of the technicians 'training' me to 'just pull the shit out of that leg...you ain't gonna hurt that monkey,'" Larimer writes. He cites another example where a trainer guided his hands onto a monkey's leg with such force that the joint between the animal's pelvis and femur popped. Larimer adds that some technicians yell at the skittish rhesus monkeys when the monkeys are exhibiting clear signs of fear.
In a later email exchange with Brian Ogden, the center's chief veterinarian, Larimer writes that that center's animal-care techniques are in "the Dark Ages" and that techs display "shitty attitudes" toward the monkeys.
Larimer, who is now working on a baboon study in South Africa, told WW that, unlike former employee and whistleblower Matt Rossell, he did not go to work at the center as an undercover animal-abuse investigator. In fact, in a previous email to Ogden, Larimer had called animal-rights groups "wackos."
Officials from ONPRC and Oregon Health & Science University, its corporate parent, would not agree to an interview. In a prepared statement, OHSU asserted, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cleared the primate research center of allegations made in the past by animal extremist organizations."
In Defense of Animals, a California-based animal rights group, will make Larimer's report public at a press conference on July 24.