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Issue 17
Scandal at University of KZN research lab
What recognised primatologists say
Cruelty at Scottish lab exposed
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SCANDAL AT UNIVERSITY OF KZN RESEARCH LAB


When the Westville campus of the university of KwaZulu Natal applied to KZN Wildlife for permits to import a number of vervet monkeys and baboons from the Limpopo province for research purposes, the SPCA and KZN Wildlife went there to check out conditions at the lab. What they found was so appalling that a permit was refused. Five vervet monkeys that had been at the lab for two years were iving in what was described as unacceptable conditions and the animals were confiscated and euthanased by the SPCA.

When Snout contacted inspector Roland Fivaz of the Kloof SPCA about this matter he refused to discuss it on the grounds that it was 'classified,' but he did admit that the animals, who had been sitting in cages for two years, were psychologically traumatised and, in their view, 'not able to be rehabilitated - they defecated each time they saw a human being.' He admitted that the decision to euthanase was taken without consulting any recognised primate rehabilitation facility with experience in the rehabilitation of lab animals. He refused to say exactly who took this decision, save to say that the decision was taken by 'qualified people.'

However, Snout has since learned that the 'qualified people' who took the decision to euthanase the monkeys were Fivas himself, KZN Wildlife official Johan Vermeulen, based in Kranskloof Nature Reserve and two other KZN Wildlife officials.

And so, the decision being taken, they took along with them Steve Whyte, a Kloof SPCA inspector (yes, apparently the same Steve Whyte who started and ran the controversial Kloof SPCA Feral Cat Unit, which allegedly made a lot of money from factories and businesses by getting them to pay him to trap and euthanase their feral cats. His unit was shut down after serious pressure was brought to bear on the NSPCA.) Whyte was taken along to perform the actual euthanasia because of his expertise in wielding a euthanasia syringe (killing cats has skills training benefits.) So the animals were euthanased on site, treated as bio-hazardous waste and incinerated at the Kloof SPCA).

In Fivas's view, any animal released from a lab was not in a fit state to be rehabilitated (taking this argument to its logical conclusion, the traumatised survivors of German concentration camp experiments should have been put down as well.)

When Snout pointed out that there had been cases where ex-lab monkeys and baboons had been successfully socialised and rehabilitated, if not to the wild, then to live out the rest of their lives happily in very large enclosures, he said that the vervets had been 'exposed to diseases.' It did not impress him at all that ex lab animals were kept in conditions of quarantine. He merely reiterated that 'the decision had been taken.'

Now there is an anomaly here. Our readers will remember when SAAV uncovered lab monkeys in shocking conditions at the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa) and negotiated for them to be released into the care of SAAV and the Vervet Monkey Foundation. On learning about this, the NSPCA arrived with the usual spin, bringing press- and TV cameras with them and claimed all the credit for the release. On that occasion, they were quite happy for the monkeys to be relocated to a monkey rehabilitation centre despite the fact that the monkeys had been infected with the Simian Aids virus.

But back to the KZN lab monkeys and a very large question mark. Why had the monkeys had been suffering in traumatised conditions for two years while the SPCA was apparently once again a member of the university's ethics committee which was supposed to oversee the conditions of the lab animals?

Fivas had argued that he saw no sense in having the monkeys transferred from cages to enclosures. So the question is: why is captivity acceptable when animals are in pokey lab cages but not in large enclosures at a recognised rehabilitation centre?

Regarding his claim that, because they defecated when they saw human beings, they were too traumatised to be rehabilitated - this statement is rejected by a recognised primatologist with extensive experience in rehabilitating primates traumatised in laboratory conditions. (See: What recognised Primatologists say).

Also if the monkeys were in such a bad state, were cruelty charges brought? We are told that because of the attitude of Dr. Singh (the vet used by the SPCA and who also apparently sat on the ethics committee on their behalf) they were caused such hassles that they had to obtain a seize and destroy warrant from a magistrate.

Most worrying of all is that no primate rehabilitators were consulted in the matter - it seemingly being much easier just to take a decision to euthanase. We are told that the decision to euthanase was not taken by the Kloof SPCA committee and management. We are of the opinion that the KZN officials and Fivas should have consulted with people such as the Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) and Justice for Animals, who are involved with vervet rescue and rehabilitation on a daily basis, before taking this seemingly cavalier decision.

In this respect we approached Steve Smit from Justice for Animals, who stated: I was very distressed to hear that, firstly, vervets being kept at the Biomedical Resource Centre (BRC) were in those conditions with the blessing of an SPCA-connected vet and, secondly, the animals were euthanased without any consultation with primate rescuers or rehabbers. I do not believe that the decision to euthanase was the right one. I have rescued vervets that have been abused over long periods by private individuals and those animals are now living comfortably in a sanctuary situation having been given lots of love and care. As for the claim that the animals had been exposed to 'diseases', I think that is a convenient excuse used to get the vervets out of the BRC and not let them become the subject of further controversy. Knowing both Fivas and Vermeulen personally I believe that the euthanasia decision was hasty, well-intentioned but wrong. Those animals deserved a chance.

We have since been informed that Singh's involvement with the Durban SPCA was terminated forthwith.

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