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Monkey breeding facility north of Mesa under federal investigation

The facility breeds monkeys for research and is run by the University of Washington.

MESA, Ariz. — A monkey breeding facility north of Mesa is now the subject of a federal investigation due to concerns the animals are being mistreated and some dying. 

Under investigation

The facility run by the University of Washington is located on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land north of Mesa.

Drone video of the University of Washington's National Primate Research Center captured by a 12 News viewer back in 2017 showed monkeys in cages of a facility that many thought was abandoned at the time.

Now, the National Institutes of Health Office of Extramural Research tells 12 News the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) has opened an investigation into the center. 

"The NIH takes very seriously all allegations of non-compliance and investigates every allegation," the NIH Office of Extramural Research said in part of a statement to 12 News. 

The statement goes on to say they do not comment on allegations involved in the investigation. 

"We are very excited," said Lisa Jones-Engel, who is a former researcher for UW, but now works as PETA's senior science advisor for primate experimentation.

PETA filed a complaint with HHS over concerns at the facility that were detailed in an Arizona Republic investigation

Past reported issues

The monkeys bred by the University of Washington at the site are pig-tailed macaques that are used for medical testing. 

When 12 News first reported on the site in 2017, USDA inspection records showed monkeys died in the University of Washington’s care.

USDA records show monkeys have died from dehydration, a lack of fasting before surgery, and strangulation on an enrichment device. The reports don’t show whether the inspection was in Arizona or somewhere else.

However, Jones-Engel said some of the monkeys are also getting sick with ailments like Valley Fever and other diseases that she said can impact the studies the monkeys are bred for. 

"The investigator will not know, cannot know whether that animal’s immune system is responding to an experimental treatment or vaccine or whether that immune system is responding to that unintended infection that that animal can no longer control," Jones-Engel said. 

Requesting further investigation 

Back in October, PETA protested outside of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality calling for the facility to be shut down because of the reported issues. 

At the time, The National Primate Center told 12 News they stand by their treatment of the animals. 

As for the investigation, University of Washington spokesperson Tina Mankowski said in a statement to 12 News: 

"The University of Washington provided answers to questions that the NIH’s Office of Animal Welfare had related to a letter they received that referred to a story in the Arizona Republic. They thanked us for our prompt response and said that no additional action is required."

Jones-Engel said she's concerned over systemic issues at the facility including infections, staffing, financial issues, and the facility's placement next to a toxic wastewater site. 

"I’m not convinced OLAW is going to come in and address those issues," Jones-Engel said. 

PETA has since sent additional letters to federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, requesting further investigation be done. 

"Not only is it a horrific way these animals are dying, but the science itself, the fundamental integrity of science, has been violated," Jones-Engel said. 

RELATED: Protestors concerned over 'unintended diseases' at Mesa monkey breeding facility

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