An Evaluation of Primate Husbandry Practices
at The Oregon Regional Primate Research Center (ORPRC)
Prepared by Thomas S. Larimer originally for the Department of Animal Resources (DAR) Management Staff at the ORPRC
First Draft Completed 2 December, 2001, Final Draft Completed 14 January, 2002
This document has been abridged from the author's six-page final draft. None of the content was changed but parts were cut for length. Unabridged copies will be supplied upon request.
... the ORPRC must work on the creation of an environment that reduces the unpleasant psychological stresses experienced by the monkeys housed there. One of the primary factors responsible for these stresses is a high animal to staff ratio, which leads to a mind-set that places technician work speed as a major animal husbandry priority. Another is what appears as a profound lacking of primate knowledge among the ORPRC's technicians. These factors contribute to the ORPRC having the most insensitive animal handling practices I have witnessed in any organization I have worked.
People are working too fast - way too fast! There is an entrenched attitude in the DAR that places a high priority on completing a given task quickly. This is primarily due to a high animal to staff ratio... This contributes to foster an environment of disregard for the mental state of the animals they work with. An exemplary example of this occurred while I watched an animal technician feed monkeys with such speed and disregard that she was actually placing food into empty cages...
Rough Handling and Excessive Force
One of the required personality traits anyone working with animals needs is patience. I didn't see a lot of patience displayed by many of the technicians toward the animals they worked with. This was especially apparent with uncooperative monkeys. I have seen technicians allow their frustrations to best them and (especially when pressed for time) resort to unnecessary rough handling, prodding, shouting, and the employment of harsh restraint techniques while restraining monkeys... In one case involving primate restraint during blood collection, 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" ... In another example which also involved a technician who was "training" me; I allowed this individual to guide my hands while I was restraining a monkey in order to show me exactly what position she wanted this monkey in for blood collection. While guiding my hands, the force she had me employ was sufficient to "pop" the joint between the monkey's pelvis and femur...
High Noise Levels
This ranges from loud talking to banging cages in animal areas. Sliders are moved too fast, entire cage racks are noisily moved past animals undergoing blood collection, and transfer boxes are bashed against cages and blood collection towers. Technicians move transfer boxes and cages around as if they contain cargo rather than a living occupant.
Hostile Attitudes Toward Certain Animals by Certain Employees
Due to ignorance of monkeys, many technicians at the ORPRC... end up developing hostile attitudes toward those monkeys and behave in a hostile manner... I remember watching one worker who would yell at and in one case hit the cage of a monkey who was showing obvious signs of fear (verging on panic). If I were in charge of this technician, I would have fired him on the spot. The ORPRC has an anti-animal abuse policy but often incidences such as that just described may only go witnessed by one or two people best. If one reports someone for animal abuse the chances are that the offending person will be able to identify who turned him in. Because of this it is doubtful that the animal abuse policy will ever have any great effect.
Personnel's Lack of Primate Knowledge...
The lack of primate knowledge displayed by many of the ORPRC's technicians is inexcusable. I feel if you gathered a random crowd of people off the street and had them watch a one-hour Discovery Channel show on monkeys, they would have a better background knowledge on primates than many of the technicians at the ORPRC... I feel there are too many technicians who work at the ORPRC not because of any real primate interest but mainly because it is a "just a job that pays the bills"...
... there was a monkey in the Animal Services Building (ASB) who would often go into a panic (often with much screeching) when someone walked into her room or began to work around her. The severity of her reaction was often dependent on who was working with her. One technician would yell at her - clearly not helping the situation.
Training and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
I feel the best way to describe my "training" at the ORPRC was often a case of "the blind leading the blind"... Most people "training" me had no prior exotic animal experience and many had only been working at ORPRC for a matter of months. In addition, technicians seem to have more interpretations for the ORPRCs' SOPs than Christians have for the Bible. During my "training" I have had as many as six different people showing me six different ways of performing a task with many of these ways having little resemblance to the SOP... Much of these different methods seemed related to how fast workers wanted to complete the tasks on hand. The more time pressure, the greater the disregard for the SOP.
The ORPRC has a psychological well-being program in place. The purpose of this program is to better the lives of the monkeys. The question I ask is: what good is this program if it fails to address the work habits of those most involved in primate care at the ORPRC?