Missing Yerkes monkey prompts visit by feds

A rhesus monkey plays in its compound in this 2009 file photo at the Yerkes Primate Center Field Station in Lawrenceville.

A rhesus monkey plays in its compound in this 2009 file photo at the Yerkes Primate Center Field Station in Lawrenceville.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources met with staff at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center on Wednesday regarding the monkey that went missing from its Lawrenceville field office earlier this month.

A 2-year-old female rhesus macaque was unaccounted for at the research center on Taylor Lane on June 15. The public was alerted through a statement issued by Yerkes almost a week later, on June 21.

USDA and DNR personnel met with Yerkes officials Wednesday to "discuss the missing monkey, the steps Yerkes staff members have taken to locate it and the center's standard operating procedures," center spokeswoman Lisa Newbern said.

According to a statement issued by Newbern after 6 p.m. Wednesday, the results were not conclusive.

"At the conclusion of the half-day visit," the statement read, "the USDA issued a brief report noting the results of the investigation are as yet inconclusive and that the incident is still under review."

Officials at the USDA, which oversees the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

While it's likely government representatives would have made their way to Lawrenceville anyway, extra urging from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals might have helped.

In a formal complaint filed last week, PETA asserted that "the escape indicated that the federally funded facility may have violated several provisions of the (Animal Welfare Act)."

Those violations, according to the animal rights group, include failure to ensure that personnel are qualified to perform their duties, failure to adequately supervise employees and failure to ensure that primary enclosures securely contain nonhuman primates.

"These intelligent, sensitive animals don't deserve the loneliness and trauma of life in a laboratory," PETA Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Kathy Guillermo said in a statement. "At the very least, Yerkes should adhere to the minimal standards put forth by the only federal law that provides any protection, the Animal Welfare Act."

Yerkes officials have repeatedly stressed that the escaped macaque is not infected with the herpes B virus, a common disease in the breed that can be deadly in humans. Newbern told the Daily Post last week that she wouldn't be surprised if the monkey in question was still somewhere in the field office.

Meanwhile, the search continues.

"The Yerkes Reasearch Center will continue to cooperate fully with the regulatory authorities while also continuing the search for the monkey and daily operations at the research center," Newbern said.