Unfortunately, what happens inside actual laboratories is not fiction. Tonight ABC's "Nightline" will air an exclusive hidden-camera investigation into the country's largest primate testing lab. (The program will air at 11:35 p.m. Eastern time.)
An investigator with The Humane Society of the United States spent nine months inside the New Iberia Research Center, part of the University of Louisiana. It's the home for "more than 6,000 primates and one of the largest captive populations of chimpanzees in the world."
The video shows chimps perched above the floor being shot with sedation guns.
"The sedated chimp would be sort of rocking slowly on the perch, then, out of nowhere, they just smack to the floor," the investigator said. "It was horrific to watch and to hear."Another incident shows a baby chimp being force-fed.
"This is a baby who is completely alert, completely awake, completely aware of his surroundings, and he's getting a substance forced down his throat. He is screaming, and he was very terrified throughout this and you can hear the screams of the other babies and mothers in the background because the mothers were in there too."Primates are people's closest ancestor. Just for a second, imagine that these are human babies and mothers. It's not that unrealistic.
Even as recent as 40 years ago poor black men were used as unwitting research subjects. The Tuskegee syphilis study ran from 1932 to 1972 in Alabama. The doctors didn't tell the men, mostly illiterate sharecroppers, what disease they had or that they were simply waiting for them to die so autopsies could be conducted.
I am in no way suggesting that African-Americans are chimpanzees or monkeys. I realize that for too long they had been portrayed as such in editorial cartoons and other media. My point -- and I could have used a group of white people to illustrate it but don't know of such a study -- is that what may seem outrageous now was accepted in the past because the subjects were thought of as "less than." In fact, "[e]ven the Surgeon General of the United States participated in enticing the men to remain in the experiment, sending them certificates of appreciation after 25 years in the study."
A Washington Star reporter finally broke the Tuskegee story in 1972, with the help of a whistle-blower. Similarly a whistle-blower appears in the "Nightline" piece.
"Nightline" conducted the interview with Narriman Fakier without telling her that the Humane Society investigation had taken place or that the undercover video existed. When she saw the footage for the first time, she said much of what was on the tape was what was happening at the facility when she was there five years earlier. "They're still at it; nothing has changed," Fakier said. "It's about the money. There's big bucks in this research, especially chimp research. We're talking millions. Millions of dollars."Someday -- hopefully soon -- Americans will look at all animal research the same way we now look at the Tuskegee research: with revulsion.
[In the meantime] The U.S. Humane Society is working with four U.S. congressmen to introduce a bill to ban the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire at least half of the 1,200 in use to sanctuaries. Some have been in labs more than 40 years.(Photo courtesy of ABCNews.com.)