Animal rights group files complaint against Hopkins in 2017 death of monkey

A file photo shows marmosets at a British zoo. A young marmoset, not pictured, was killed in a Johns Hopkins University lab in 2017.
A file photo shows marmosets at a British zoo. A young marmoset, not pictured, was killed in a Johns Hopkins University lab in 2017. (ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP/Getty Images)

An animal rights group has filed an official complaint with federal regulators against the Johns Hopkins University regarding the death of a young marmoset in the university’s care in December 2017.

The marmoset was killed when a cage door was closed on its neck by accident, Hopkins reported to the National Institutes of Health in June. The letter followed a phone call to the agency the day of the incident, the university said.


The monkey was the second animal to die in Hopkins’ custody in the span of 18 months; a macaque was found dead in January 2016 with its head stuck in a ball that had a hole chewed into it, the rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now said in its complaint. The group opposes all experimentation involving animals.

Michael A. Budkie, the group’s executive director, argued in the complaint that the incidents constituted violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, and followed previous violations from 2014 to 2016 involving multiple animal deaths. Three monkeys and a rabbit died at Hopkins in 2014.

“The Johns Hopkins University has clearly demonstrated a long and sordid history of serious Animal Welfare Act violations which have caused significant pain and distress to the animals in their care,” Budkie wrote in the complaint last week.

Labs found to be in violation of the federal law can be fined $10,000 per infraction, a punishment Budkie suggested should be levied against Hopkins.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which fields and investigates such complaints, did not respond to a request for comment.

In its report about the latest incident to NIH’s Office of Animal Welfare, Hopkins attributed the marmoset’s death to a newer staff member panicking when the animal began to leave its cage.

“In response, the caretaker closed the door quickly, while the monkey was in the doorway, causing trauma to the neck,” wrote Denis Wirtz, vice provost for research.

Following the incident, a senior clinical veterinarian revised the standard operating procedure for marmoset care, stressing that “staff should not be alarmed if a marmoset was leaving the cage, nor try to catch the animal alone, but rather should contact the supervisor by phone for assistance … to avoid injury to the marmoset,” Wirtz wrote.

Marmosets have been used in the university’s research on hearing. In January 2016, new research found that the monkeys, like humans, could discern pitch.

Audrey Huang, a Hopkins spokeswoman, called the 2017 marmoset death a “tragic accident” and said the university complies with U.S. Department of Agriculture laws and other relevant regulations.

“In this case, all reporting was done swiftly, corrective actions were put into place immediately and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare found no cause for further action, and Johns Hopkins is ready to cooperate with the USDA,” Huang said in an emailed statement.