In the summer of 1964, the University of Wisconsin Primate Center, then under the direction of Harry Harlow, built a monkey house at the Vilas Park Zoo, a park owned and operated by Dane County, WI.
In 1972, the Primate Center received one of the last groups of monkeys trapped and exported from India. These animals were kept in the monkey house and eventually became the largest continually observed intact social group of rhesus monkeys in the world.
By 1989, much had been written about this group and two other groups that were also housed at the monkey house. Some zoo goers knew the monkeys by name. The monkey house was the top attraction at the zoo until it was destroyed.
In 1989, public protest had been unable to stop the university from harvesting babies for use in its labs. Animal rights oriented graffiti began appearing on and around the monkey house. As a result, the Primate Center promised the Henry Vilas Zoo, in a written document – signed by the Primate Center director, Robert Goy, five senior staff, and by the monkey house supervisor – that no animals born at the zoo would ever again be used in any harmful experimentation, and that, if the animals were sent elsewhere, they would remain protected by the agreement.
The primate center renewed this agreement in writing on two subsequent occasions over the course of six years.
In 1997, a whistleblower leaked documents that demonstrated unequivocally that within months of the first agreement, the primate center had resumed its culling and that over the intervening eight years, at least 201 monkeys had been secretly taken from the zoo, experimented on and killed in the UW labs, or were sold to other labs around the country.
The university said it was sorry. Within days all funding for the care of the zoo monkeys dried up. The university said that the monkeys would have to be disposed of in some way. The university wanted to send the monkeys to a lab.
A Dane County Supervisor introduced a resolution asking that the Dane County consider ways to pay for the care of the monkeys or to have them relocated to a sanctuary. The university vigorously opposed the resolution and argued strongly against it before three committees and the entire Board of Supervisors. The University said the monkeys were a health risk and too expensive for the county to care for.
But school children raised money to protect the monkeys. Thousands of people signed a petition asking the university to work with the county to find a way to protect the monkeys and donated to the Monkey Protection Fund. Local media covered the story for months, three county sub-committees voted unanimously to help the monkeys, and the county government overwhelmingly passed the resolution intended to help the monkeys. The governor's wife, Sue Anne Thompson, recorded a public service announcement to help the monkeys, and no one who attended public meetings spoke against the monkeys or the resolution other than Primate Center staff and the chairman of the Zoo Commission.
In the end, the university successfully frightened Kathleen Falk, the Dane County Executive, into choosing not to use county funds to aid the monkeys. The Alliance for Animals found a sanctuary in San Antonio willing to take the monkeys; the sanctuary donated $15,000 to cover the transportation costs and initial care. The university refused to let the monkeys go there, calling it a “roadside zoo.” They shipped off two of the groups, the wild-captured group that had lived in the monkey house since 1972 and a second group, about 150 rhesus monkeys all told, on March 4, 1997, while people protested at the gate.
They were sent to the Tulane primate center where they endured ninety days of solitary confinement which Tulane termed quarantine. Their family groups were destroyed. Some were placed into breeding situations, some died (at least one during solitary confinement), others were experimented on and then killed.
The third group, about 50 stump-tailed macaques, was hard for the university to get rid of; no lab wanted them. They finally sent them to the same sanctuary that they had previously told Dane County Supervisors was a roadside zoo and far worse than a laboratory.
During the course of the agreement that they would not hurt the monkeys, the university secretly used and sold 201 of them, and then shipped 150 to Tulane. This amounts to 351 individual lies to the citizens of Dane County.
Once all the monkeys were gone, the university had the monkey house bulldozed and hauled away. It’s almost as if they didn’t want people to remember anything about the Vilas Park Monkeys.
This is only one of a number of occasions that the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the scientists working there have been caught lying to the public, violating scientific protocols or covering up the details of their experiments on monkeys.
Learn more at www.madisonmonkeys.com