Ex-Ohio State University laboratory chimp dies on arrival at the Primarily Primates sanctuary
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
COLUMBUS, SAN ANTONIO–Kermit, 35, one of nine chimpanzees
sent by Ohio State University to the Primarily Primates sanctuary in
Leon Spring, Texas, died under sedation on March 2 as sanctuary
staff tried to move him from a transport cage to larger holding
Ohio State has donated $324,000 to Primarily Primates to
build permanent facilities for the chimps that will be about five
times larger than their university housing, and to provide for their
“Veterinarian Thomas Vice had administered a shot of
anesthesia, followed by two smaller doses, when Kermit collapsed in
a sitting position,” reported Kevin Kidder of the Columbus Dispatch,
based on the account of Ohio State laboratory animal resources
director William Yonushonis.
A necrospy done at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical
Research in San Antonio found that the cause of death was a “heart
attack associated with pre-existing heart disease, pulmonary
congestion and tissue swelling associated with handling. The
necropsy did not address tranquilizers in Kermit’s body,” wrote Mike
Lafferty of the Columbus Dispatch.
Yonushonis, also the senior lab animal veterinarian at Ohio State,
personally toured and approved of Primarily Primates before agreeing
to the transfer.
Temporarily restricted to a wheelchair due to injuries
suffered in a recent fall from the roof of a chimp cage while
retrieving misthrown treats, Primarily Primates director Wally Swett
was at first unable to see what had happened, but told ANIMAL PEOPLE
that veterinary personnel with extensive experience in sedating
chimpanzees were right there and responded immediately.
The most obvious probable contributing factor to the death
was that Kermit weighed nearly 300 pounds, about twice as much as he
At Ohio State, Swett said, Kermit and the other chimps in his
colony had no climbing structures. All were “flabby,” Swett told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, but predicted based on past experience with retired
laboratory chimps that they would rapidly shed pounds and gain muscle
tone once able to climb at will.
Swett said Kermit was the first of the Ohio State chimps to
be released from a transport cage, after the colony rested overnight
following a late arrival. Southwest Foundation vet staff were called
to transfer the remaining eight chimps to their temporary facilities,
and completed the moves without further incident.
The chimps reached Primarily Primates later than expected,
Swett said, because researcher Sally Boysen and two supporters
chained themselves to the gate at the Ohio State chimp center.
Boysen had used the chimps since 1983 in a series of studies of their
ability to learn basic spelling and math, and in studies of altruism
and cooperation. Some of her work was shown in a Discovery Channel
“We have had an agreement with Boysen since 2002 that if
adequate new research funding was not obtained to support the
colony,” costing about $200,000 a year to maintain at Ohio State,
“then the university would seek to move the animals to an appropriate
refuge,” said Ohio State senior vice president for research Robert
McGrath. “We delayed that move for nearly two years to allow for the
researchers’ efforts to secure such support.”
Since 2002, Ohio State spokesperson Earle Holland added,
“nine research proposals were submitted by the researchers to
traditional funding agencies, but all failed to win support.”
Meanwhile, Holland indicated, conditions at the chimp
colony had become dangerous.
“The current chimp facility was last refurbished in 1991,
when the university housed only five animals in the building,”
Holland explained. “The current population,” before the move to
Primarily Primates, included “five males and four females, ranging
in age from five to 47 years old,” with a possible life expectancy
of 60-70 years.
The oldest chimp, Sarah, on January 15 bit one of her
female caretakers, who was trying to spray antiseptic on a bite
wound inflicted by another chimp.
Sarah, a svelte 80 pounds, “came to Ohio State in 1987 from
the University of Pennsylvania,” Associated Press reported. “She
has learned an artificial language system and understands the numbers
zero through six.”
With the advantage of hindsight, Swett had several ideas for
moving chimpanzees from transport cages to living quarters without
sedation, but said sedation would not have been needed if the Ohio
State University transport cage doors had been the same size as the
doors of the cages used in the past to bring chimps from other venues.
PETA began attacking the transfer to Primarily Primates as
soon as it was announced.
PETA and the closely aligned Physicians’ Committee for
Responsible Medicine were already in conflict with Ohio State over a
three-week “Spinal Cord Injury Techniques” summer course, started
in 2004, that reportedly injures and kills about 270 rats and mice
per year. Earlier, PETA and PCRM pressured Ohio State to halt
methe-drine experiments on cats done by researcher Michael Podell.
The experiments ended when the funding ran out in 2002.
Swett and PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk have clashed for more
than 15 years, beginning, Swett told ANIMAL PEOPLE, when he
criticized PETA for killing many rescued animals instead of placing
them at sanctuaries.
In a prepared statement, Swett added several days later,
“We take a “no-kill” view of advocacy. In a fair world, primates
and all conscious individual animals would have a protected interest
in living. We believe it is important to model that fair world
today. PETA takes a different view. The Virginia State Veterinarian
reports that two animals died [of natural causes] in the
group’s facilities this past year. PETA itself killed 1,946 pet
animals, transferring or adopting out only 215. PETA also killed
141 wild animals in 2005, versus only 52 animals whom its employees
transferred or released. These figures include only the deaths in
PETA’s home state over a one-year period. We work in the interest of
allowing animals to live out their lives.”
As on several past occasions, PETA amplified criticisms
originating with employees whom Swett said were dismissed for cause.
Swett noted that among the storm of criticism he received
after Kermit’s death from primate activists, amplified by PETA,
Wild Animal Orphanage founder Carol Asvestas did not appear to be
quoted. The Wild Animal Orphanage retirement colony for 20 former
laboratory chimpanzees is also located just north of San Antonio.
Asvestas and Swett have often conflicted in the past, but
Asvestas has had her own sedation mishaps. In April 2003 Asvestas
was severely injured by an escaped African lion, who ran over her,
impaling her on a mesquite bush, after a tranquilizer dart failed to
take immediate effect. Police then shot the lion. In 1999 Wild
Animal Orphanage was penalized by the USDA for the August 1996 deaths
of two tigers and a puma under sedation during a flight from Spokane
en route to the sanctuary.
“Tranquilizing or sedating wild animals remains more an art
and less of a science than any other part of veterinary practice,”
commented the late Franklin Loew, former dean of the Tufts
University and Cornell University veterinary schools. Loew died in