Missing Lab Monkey Believed Dead

Times Staff Writer

An adolescent monkey that vanished this month from a research lab at UC Davis likely slipped down a drain and perished in the sewer system, officials said Wednesday.

Investigators who have spent the last two weeks searching for the 4.4-pound gray-and-tan rhesus macaque came to that conclusion after the animal’s handlers passed “truth verification” tests that satisfied officials they had not smuggled the primate out of the facility.

“Now she is presumed dead,” said UC Davis spokeswoman Lisa Lapin. “It’s very sad. We’re sick about it. In the 40-year history of the primate center, there’s never been a monkey unaccounted for.”

The disappearance comes at a bad time for the university, which is under fire for its efforts to build a federal lab on campus that would study deadly diseases, such as Ebola.


Many in the leafy college town say the lab would pose a risk to the community, both because of the threat that dangerous pathogens could escape and because it might make the city a terrorist target, said Councilwoman Sue Greenwald.

The university technically does not need the support of the town to construct the facility, and officials said there is no comparison between the security at the primate lab, known as the California National Primate Research Center, and the armed guards and 10 security checkpoints that would be installed at the proposed disease center.

Nevertheless, university officials said that the disappearance of the monkey, a 2-year-old with a sweet disposition but no name, as per center custom, has prompted them to review security procedures.

The 20-inch-long monkey was last seen Feb. 13, when handlers opened her cage for a routine cleaning.


The handlers are supposed to connect a clean cage to the soiled one so an animal can move from one to the other without escaping or being picked up. But apparently that procedure was not followed, officials said, and the monkey darted out, ran behind a row of cages and slipped through a four-inch hole that connects to the sewage system.

In the days after the disappearance, officials searched the system with fiber-optic cameras, baited humane traps and posted watchers to look for the animal.

On Feb. 20, convinced that the sociable monkey would not have left on her own, officials called police in to investigate whether an employee may have walked off with the $5,000 animal.

But on Wednesday they decided the monkey had perished in the drain after all.


More than 4,000 primates are kept in indoor and outdoor facilities at the sprawling compound on the western edge of the campus. They are used in medical experiments, which in the past have included developing treatments for HIV-infected pregnant women. They are also bred to provide monkeys for other research programs around California.

The monkey that disappeared was not fated for experimentation. When she was old enough, officials said, they had hoped to breed her.

Every year, a few primates manage to escape from outdoor enclosures, but they have always been quickly recaptured. This is the first time in 30 years that a monkey has managed to slip out of an indoor cage, officials said.

“I’ve been holding out hope that we’d find the monkey alive,” said Dallas Hyde, director of the primate center. “But I think at this point, we’ve resigned ourselves. Now we’re trying to find the remains.”