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“Proper right here! Beneath our ft! Are 300 monkeys! They haven’t seen sunshine! In years!”

Lisa Jones-Engel stands exterior the doorway to the Washington Nationwide Primate Analysis Middle together with two dozen different protesters – most 30 years youthful than she. Her lengthy gray-blond ponytail tucked over one shoulder, she yells right into a megaphone. As she shouts, one other a part of her mind is considering: “God, you sound like a fucking activist. You sound like one in every of them.”

In the event you had advised Jones-Engel she’d be doing this two years earlier, she would have been horrified. She was a PhD, a primatologist – a scientist, for God’s sake, not some foolish monkey-hugger who decreased refined points to summer-camp chants.

She had labored at NYU’s Laboratory for Experimental Drugs and Surgical procedure in Primates, after which on the College of Washington’s primate analysis heart, one in every of eight nationwide primate facilities created within the Sixties. She’d spent many years within the subject, trapping and sampling macaques and different primates throughout Asia on prestigious grants, publishing her analysis in high journals, co-authoring a guide on monkey illnesses, constructing experience and credibility.

However now right here she was carrying a garish monkey masks on a sidewalk in Seattle, feeling each energized and profoundly uncomfortable to be a part of this spectacle. She advised herself to buck up.

She had been attempting so laborious for therefore lengthy to make issues higher for the animals in her care, the monkeys utilized in biomedical analysis. She’d made the calm, reasoned arguments; she’d sat on her college’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). However each time she questioned a protocol or requested data, even easy questions like whether or not animals in a examine have been age- and sex-matched, she was stonewalled and disrespected, painted as a troublemaker moderately than as a involved researcher.

So in late 2019 she took a drastic and irrevocable step: she mentioned sure to a job at Individuals for the Moral Therapy of Animals (Peta) as a senior science adviser, a transfer she by no means would have predicted when she began her profession.

She made herself a promise: she would shut down the nation’s seven remaining primate facilities inside the subsequent 10 years.

She simply may do it, too.


In 2019, the final yr for which analysis is on the market, greater than 108,000 monkeys have been held and/or utilized in experiments in US labs, together with almost 200,000 guinea pigs, 58,000 canine, 18,000 cats and hundreds of thousands of mice and rats. The Environmental Safety Company hopes to get rid of using vertebrates in animal testing by 2035. (Few folks care what researchers do to bugs or different invertebrates.)

Controversy over using animals in analysis goes again to no less than 18th-century Europe, when philosophers akin to Jean-Jacques Rousseau started to argue that animals had rights. That controversy accelerated within the Sixties when the US Nationwide Institutes of Well being established its primate facilities program and medical researchers started counting on non-human primates.

More than 108,000 monkeys were held in US labs as of 2019.
Greater than 108,000 monkeys have been held in US labs as of 2019. {Photograph}: Lynn Johnson

On this century, researchers and animal rights activists usually occupy antipodal corners of the moral panorama. In a single nook, the world of biomedical analysis insists that animals are essential in creating new remedies for people, that their ache is correctly overseen and mitigated, that analysis good points are a good tradeoff for his or her struggling.

Within the different, animal rights activists say that fewer than 5% of animal trials translate to viable human remedies – and the Nationwide Institutes of Well being agrees. In addition they say that 1000’s of lab animals endure and die needlessly, that there are different choices for analysis, that people don’t have any ethical or moral proper to make use of different species in these methods.

Monkeypox, a viral cousin of smallpox that’s at the moment spreading within the US and Europe, has lengthy been related to primates shipped to analysis laboratories. “There are such a lot of monkeys pouring into US airports of entry,” says Jones-Engel. Final week, as an example, she heard from a whistleblower about an EgyptAir cargo flight that took off from Cambodia with a maintain filled with “virtually actually diseased” longtailed macaques, which have been trucked 1800 miles throughout the nation to Texas after touchdown.

“Something and every little thing these monkeys have been uncovered to or contaminated with as they transfer alongside this ‘provide chain’ has the potential to spill over into people,” she says.

The activist perspective bought a lift from the accelerated growth of the Covid-19 vaccines, made doable partly as a result of animal trials have been carried out similtaneously human trials as an alternative of sequentially. To some, this proves that animal trials are an pointless formality.


For many years, Jones-Engel recognized as a researcher, beginning in highschool, when she volunteered for seven months at anthropologist Birute Galdikas’ analysis camp in Indonesia. Galdikas research orangutans, however she requested Jones-Engel to spend time with the wild macaques residing in swamps across the camp. Typically Jones-Engel paddled a dugout canoe, however largely she slogged by means of muck as much as her armpits. “She by no means as soon as got here out dry,” says Galdikas with admiration. “She was brave.”

For greater than 30 years, Jones-Engel adopted macaques, constructing a database of blood, fecal, and different samples from greater than 1,000 particular person monkeys. She likes to consider herself as a macaque, really: sensible, social, good at foraging, protecting. “God show you how to for those who look sideways at one in every of my juvies,” she says. She’s solely partly joking.

Nonetheless, she scoffed at animal rights activists. “They didn’t perceive that there are respectable individuals who assume one of many highest callings is to look after an animal in a laboratory setting,” she explains now, referencing her former beliefs. Primate researchers thought “animal activists are loopy, harmful, harmful, ignorant of us, and we’re scientists. Get again, you fools, and allow us to do our work.”

That was a cushty place for an formidable scientist like Jones-Engel – for some time. However her considering started to shift over time, particularly after she transformed to Judaism in 1994, when she was 5 months pregnant with twin daughters.

She and her husband, Gregory Engel, host weekly Shabbat dinners at their properties in Seattle and Barrow, Alaska, the place he practices drugs. These dinners embrace a various teams of mates, neighbors and strays. “One of many issues I do as a Jew is construct neighborhood, convey collectively individuals who want it, whether or not they understand it or not,” she says. “After I see monkeys in particular person cages, I see you’ve taken away the factor that’s most essential to a macaque. You’ve taken away their means to have a relationship.”

Then 10 years in the past, she was driving round Zorargonj, Bangladesh, on the lookout for monkeys to pattern, when she noticed a person strolling a monkey on a leash and requested her colleague to tug over. She opened the van door and the monkey bolted into the van and grabbed her cheeks. Holy shit, she thought. Am I going to lose my face?

Jones-Engel with a money in Bangladesh.
Lisa Jones-Engel in Bangladesh in 2014, the place she gathered organic samples from monkey homeowners and their animals. {Photograph}: Lynn Johnson

As a substitute, the monkey put her nostril and mouth proper as much as Jones-Engel’s, virtually however not fairly touching, and for the subsequent 30 seconds they stayed like that – two primates sharing breath within the humid air. Then the monkey let her go. The proprietor advised her she might to go forward and take a pattern, however Jones-Engel couldn’t. At that second, there was no method she might have precipitated that monkey even a second’s ache or discomfort.

Two months later, Jones-Engel was trapping monkeys in a Bangladeshi village. She had caught a dozen screaming animals, together with a mom and toddler; she’d anesthetized them, taken samples, allow them to get up and launched them.

The monkeys fled, aside from the toddler, who was nonetheless clutching the netting. His mom, realizing he was gone, turned and ran again into the entice to get him. Watching her put herself again into hazard for her child’s sake, Jones-Engel had a revelation.

“Like all mom, she was prepared to do no matter she needed to do to get her child,” she remembers. “As a mom, I knew what it price her. And I simply went … wow, I can’t experiment on them any extra as a result of they’re so like us.”

That statement – they’re identical to us – is in some methods the paradox on the coronary heart of the controversy about primates in analysis. Psychologist John Gluck, now a analysis professor on the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown College, articulates that paradox in his guide Voracious Science & Susceptible Animals: when researchers wish to extrapolate their animal outcomes to people, they emphasize the similarities between animals and people, he explains. However once they wish to justify analysis that causes ache, worry, or demise – protocols that might by no means be accepted for people – they emphasize the variations.

In different phrases, we will be taught from them as a result of they’re identical to us; we will experiment on them as a result of they’re not like us.

Jones-Engel was already grappling with that paradox when she learn Gluck’s guide in 2017 and flew out to satisfy him. He inspired her to just accept a seat on the College of Washington’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the place she spent the subsequent two years attempting to navigate the opposing worlds of animal analysis and animal care.

She rapidly grew annoyed at expectations that the committee would rubber-stamp analysis moderately than interrogate it. Her requests for extra data on a protocol or for a evaluate of a examine’s design have been routinely denied. She was branded as a troublemaker, inflicting pressure between her and the committee’s chair, Jane Sullivan, and finally she resigned from the college and the committee. (Like others on the college, Sullivan declined to be interviewed for this story.)

One factor that set her aside from different researchers on the committee was her deep information of animals within the wild. Most researchers know their mice or monkeys solely as captives, by no means as unbiased, competent, free creatures.

Woman with a monkey
Lisa Jones-Engel in Bangladesh in 2007. {Photograph}: Lynn Johnson

“When you’ve got somebody who’s in jail their entire life, they’re not a median particular person,” says John Ioannidis, a professor of drugs at Stanford who has written concerning the limitations of animal analysis. “These primates reside in a really bizarre surroundings, in a cage, remoted, and beneath large stress.”

It’s all too straightforward to see these animals as analysis instruments moderately than unbiased beings. “In the event you’re working with animals continuously in a cage, you don’t have a way of their spirit. They’re not equal to you,” says Birute Galdikas.

However Jones-Engel’s months within the swamps with wild macaques and her years as a subject biologist taught her how monkeys ate and groomed and slept, the best way they constructed social hierarchies, how they solved issues and made selections. Her understanding gave her a special stage of respect and compassion for lab monkeys. She wished to do higher by them. She felt she owed it to them. “The excessive holy days are robust, let’s put it that method,” she jokes. “I bought lots of macaques to atone to.”

She knew the ethical argument wouldn’t fly, so she tried the science. Over the past 20 years there’s been rising consciousness of the methods wherein the situations of lab animals’ lives have an effect on them, and subsequently have an effect on analysis outcomes. “Think about what it’s like for this monkey to be alone on this cage,” she says. “That aloneness has all these downstream implications for the animal, for his or her psychological wellbeing and their bodily wellbeing.” Caged monkeys are additionally liable to illnesses like TB, malaria, MRSA, and salmonella; their immune techniques are compromised by stress, ache and isolation. Excessive ranges of infectious illnesses like Chagas, valley fever and TB have been present in breeding colonies.

Jones-Engel thought scientists would need to concentrate on these points and the best way they compromise scientific findings. They may assist clarify why solely a tiny share of animal research translate to scientific advantages for people. “Monkeys should not furry little people,” she says.

However even by means of the lens of bettering the science, she couldn’t get her colleagues to hear.

“Lisa is a considerate particular person,” acknowledges Shiu-Lok Hu, a former colleague and virologist at UW. “However the animal mannequin we use is a surrogate mannequin, and isn’t a sound technique to predict outcomes in human trials.” In different phrases, animal analysis focuses on asking questions for the sake of pure science moderately than discovering sensible remedies for folks.

A Peta protest
Lisa Jones-Engel at one in every of her first Peta protests, on the College of Washington campus close to the constructing that homes the animal analysis lab. {Photograph}: Lynn Johnson

“I inform my college students, 99% of the time issues don’t work,” says Hu. “You need to be taught from these failures. You possibly can say if 99% of the experiments don’t work, why do them? That might be the improper technique to method it.” Like many different animal researchers, he deflects questions concerning the ethics of placing animals by means of ache for the sake of pure analysis. As an example, when requested whether or not maintaining animals in cages and experimenting on them was by definition harming them, he responded, “Effectively sure. And no. I don’t know.”

Rationalizations like this frustrate Jones-Engel. “At what level are we asking an excessive amount of from the animals?” she says. She thought she might change issues from inside the system, and her failure almost broke her.

After I first spoke along with her years in the past, she commented: “In the event you stand with science, you put on the mantle of the scientist. In the event you stand with the animal rights motion, you put on the mantle of the advocate, the ethical, moral particular person. I’ve one foot on both aspect as a result of I perceive either side. And it’s a horrible place to be.”


These days, the horrible place is generally a reminiscence. Jones-Engel seems ahead to work, to opening her e mail in-box to see if one in every of her many Freedom of Data Act requests has come by means of. She is aware of what different scientists consider Peta – that it’s at finest naive and at worst propagates lies – and truly, she generally agrees.

On the protest, for instance, she heard different activists speaking about storming in and releasing the monkeys, and thought, no, no, that’s a extremely unhealthy thought! A couple of minutes later she heard somebody chanting “We’re right here right this moment! At UW! The place they’re killing infants!” The hyperbole made her wish to curl up and die.

However she additionally believes the hyperbole forces folks to concentrate in methods they in any other case wouldn’t. The group has taken warmth for operating media campaigns juxtaposing pictures of animal abuse with pictures of slavery, or evaluating the ache of Jews throughout the Holocaust with the struggling of factory-farmed animals. “We’re all animals,” Jones-Engel explains. “All of us endure. And Peta doesn’t draw back from placing that proper on the market in your face. It may be stunning, and I imagine that’s Peta’s intent.”

Lisa Jones-Engel in Cambodia 2011.
Lisa Jones-Engel in Cambodia 2011. {Photograph}: Lynn Johnson

That’s a part of the explanation she feels she has discovered her troop. “One of many issues I take in all probability undue pleasure in is that you simply actually can’t inform Peta no,” she says. “In the event you do, Peta will draft a lawsuit and drop it in your doorstep. They’ll put collectively a TV advert and begin operating it.” As soon as the group takes on a difficulty, its dedication is absolute. For Jones-Engel, that’s price letting go of the status, the adrenaline and the opposite trappings of her former calling. She’s making peace with the concept she will by no means return now.

There’s reduction in letting go, in standing squarely on the aspect of animal rights, in utilizing her scientific background and information for what she sees as a better goal. Her work is as a lot a calling as science with a capital S ever was. “In the event you really look,” she says merely, “it’s the uncommon one who can then not see.”

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