An animal-rights group has filed a complaint and is seeking punitive damages against a Yemassee company for the deaths of monkeys in 2011 and 2012.
Stop Animal Exploitation Now filed the complaint against Alpha Genesis Inc. on May 6 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, according to a copy of the complaint provided by SAEN executive director Michael Budkie.
The letter cites reports by two federal agencies indicating at least nine monkeys died because of temperature-control problems between late 2011 and December 2012. Nine additional deaths, from severe trauma or evisceration, should also be investigated, according to the letter.
"It's quite apparent that they're not capable of meeting even the minimal requirements of animal welfare," Budkie said Thursday.
An attempt Thursday to reach Alpha Genesis president Greg Westergaard was not successful.
Inspection reports available on the APHIS website say that two monkeys died and another was euthanized in April 2012 because of hyperthermia, or overheating. Two other monkeys died the previous winter from hypothermia, according to the report. The facility was cited by the agency for noncompliance, and the temperature problems were resolved, according to the reports.
"It's clear that Alpha Genesis has violated a federal law, at least with the five deaths listed in the APHIS report and potentially more, and they should be penalized for that," Budkie said.
Budkie provided a necropsy report from the National Institutes of Health indicating that four hypothermia and five hyperthermia deaths occurred during 2012, as well as six deaths from "fatal trauma" and three from "evisceration," which might have been avoided with better care, Budkie said.
The necropsy listed more than 100 monkey deaths in 2012, but Budkie said this might only be a partial list. He added that the list might only account for the deaths among the approximately 1,500 monkeys that are funded by NIH. The facility at 95 Castle Hall Road is home to 3,500 to 4,000 monkeys of various breeds, according to the APHIS inspection reports. NIH lists its primary function as a primate breeding colony.
Budkie is concerned there could have been other avoidable deaths that are not in either report.
The ultimate goal of SAEN, Budkie said, is to force the Alpha Genesis facility to close.
"If they can't perform basic functions to keep these animals alive, like the basic functions of monitoring if it's too hot or cold, then why do we think they can do science?" he said.
For now, he wants the USDA to fine the company the maximum allowed -- $10,000 for every death caused by a preventable violation. Fines of that size, however, are rare, Budkie said, and typically range from $5,000 to $10,000.
In 2006, Westergaard told The Beaufort Gazette the company intended to increase its population, which then was 3,600 between the Yemassee facility and Morgan Island, known locally as Monkey Island, in the Coosaw River.
Today, Charles River Laboratory manages the Morgan Island rhesus monkey population, which is owned by NIH.
Alpha Genesis began selling monkey toys to government research facilities, universities and zoos in 2005, Westergaard has said. "Our goal here is not to just have physically healthy monkeys but psychologically healthy and curious monkeys, too."