Why no photographs?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1996:
That this feature appears without illustrations in itself illustrates one of the
most difficult aspects of the research debate: in the absence of openness and honesty
about just what is going on, it is difficult to fairly and accurately interpret much of the
evidence. ANIMAL PEOPLE editor Merritt Clifton wished to show this point with
two photographs, shocking at a glance, and definitely depicting situations unacceptable
to people who care about animals, which nonetheless may not have shown the atrocities
they seemed to show, a possibility Clifton postulated after blowing them up to four
times their original size for study on a computer screen.
ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett vetoed inclusion of the photos in
keeping with our policy against using photos which may be too painful for people who
care about animals to to view while also reading potentially disturbing text.
The photographs in question depicted rhesus macaques, and were apparently
taken at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center in Madison, or predecessor
facilities, at some point prior to the founding of ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1992. They
were mailed to us anonymously, among a group of eight related photos, without explanation,
in response to our first publication announcement.
The history of WRPRC, site of the late Harry Harlow’s notorious isolation
experiments, 1930-1970, is enough to color perception of the black-and-white
prints––but other University of Wisconsin faculty members dismantled the isolation
chambers in 1970, when Harlow left to end his career at the University of Arizona.
After a 1979 scandal involving neglect of primates used by dioxin researcher James
Allen, WRPRC in 1982 adopted a precedent-setting policy statement that acknowledges,
“Maintenance and care standards alone do not constitute adequate protection of
the well-being and rights of nonhuman animals.”
WRPRC still does much controversial research, but also hosts the Primate
Talk online network, heavily used by animal defenders as well as researchers. The
sponsor, WRPRC chief librarian Larry Jacobsen, in 1991 put his career on the line,
against strong professional opposition, to recognize longtime foe of animal experiments
Shirley McGreal of the International Primate Protection League in the I n t e r n a t i o n a l
Directory of Primatology, which Jacobsen edits. Thus WRPRC is now reputedly in
the vanguard of concern among laboratory primatologists for improving the well-being
of nonhuman primate research subjects.
As a group, the photos show two macaques in restraint chairs; a macaque
either being removed from a tiny steel cage or being put into it; two clench-jawed
macaques clutching each other in a wire cage; and several scenes of surgery or dissection.
The holding conditions appear to be severely substandard––a hint that the photos
might date to Harlow’s time, or to Allen’s. One restrained macaque is clearly unhappy.
But the other has his mouth open in an ambiguous expression––pain? fear? outrage?
or pleasure?––and a human hand, at first glance doing something invasive to his head,
on closer inspection may be scratching his ears: the hand could hold a small squarish
object, perhaps an electric razor, but a gleaming “instrument” turns out to be a wedding
band, and the square shape could be a shadow. The caged macaques seem terrified.
Yet apparent frost on the window behind them indicates they may instead be cold,
and it is interesting, if perhaps coincidental, that they have been given a window.
Seeming to convict WRPRC of cruelty, the photos might show someone’s
efforts to make a bad situation for the macaques a bit better. They might have been
taken as part of an internal effort to improve conditions. But we just don’t know. And
we can’t be sure of getting straight answers, even if anyone still alive could give them.