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Research monkey deaths spark protests

Activists seek end to Harvard facility

By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / March 26, 2012
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CAMBRIDGE - Harvard University has pledged to improve the care of monkeys after recent deaths at its research center in Southborough, but two dozen protesters who gathered at Harvard Square yesterday said the steps do not go far enough.

“Our aim would be for them to shut down,’’ said Laura Ray of Boston, who helped organize the protest. “If they can’t even keep those animals alive, what kind of science can they do?’’

Protesters, who also gathered in Southborough, held signs that read “Harvard Negligence Kills Animals!’’ and “Stop Testing On Animals Now.’’

Two monkeys have been euthanized since December after water had not been available in their cages. In October, a monkey died after its escape during preparations for a medical procedure. And in June 2010, a monkey that had died naturally was discovered after its cage underwent a high-temperature washing.

“A normal citizen would be charged with animal cruelty for not providing their animals with enough water,’’ Ray said. “It’s totally irresponsible.’’

Harvard University officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In response to an outcry over the deaths, the university suspended new research projects at the center, which houses more than 2,000 monkeys; put others on hold; implemented steps to increase staff accountability; and formed an independent panel to review management and operations.

The center’s interim director resigned March 1.

The US Department of Agriculture also is investigating.

Harvard’s response to the deaths has not encouraged some protesters.

“I think it’s just window dressing,’’ said Mimi Ryerson, 70, of West Roxbury. “It’ll be just business as usual. I have no faith that they will really change.’’

One onlooker said the research should continue.

“I don’t know a whole lot about it, but how else are they going to find a cure’’ for various diseases “if they don’t do the testing,’’ said Kelly Coveney, 36, of Cambridge.

Research at primate centers could lead to breakthroughs in treatments for Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, and other viral infections, scientists say.

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie @globe.com.

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