This Valentine’s Day weekend, I finally met Gregory! He is one of 26 male squirrel monkeys released in 2018 from a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nicotine addiction study, through the work of a White Coat Waste Project coalition that included the Greg Fund. This weekend’s occasion was a ribbon cutting ceremony for the monkeys’ new “almost wild” habitat at Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary in Gainesville, Florida.
Born May 5, 2011, Gregory was one of 30 monkeys used in the Arkansas-based FDA addiction study during four long years beginning in 2014. The monkeys were caged in isolation, wearing vests that would pump nicotine into their veins when they pressed a button — supposedly to help agency officials predict the nicotine level that would cause addiction in human adolescent users of e-cigarettes and alternative nicotine delivery devices.
The FDA terminated the study in January 2018, after a White Coat Waste Freedom of Information Act request revealed improper research procedures that allowed four of the original 30 monkeys to die. Primate expert Dr. Jane Goodall and a bipartisan U.S. Congressional coalition were among the prominent voices demanding an end to the research.
The FDA typically euthanizes monkeys at the end of experiments — but Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb decided in this case to release the 26 surviving monkeys to an accredited primate sanctuary. The FDA chose Gainesville, Florida-based Jungle Friends, which was already home to some 300 New World monkeys who are retired from other research facilities, rescued from the pet trade, or confiscated by authorities.
In November 2018, Gregory and the 25 other surviving monkeys made the trip to Jungle Friends, where staff commenced the months-long process of re-acclimating them from the small indoor cage environment that was all they had ever known, to their “almost wild” outdoor environment with a floor of plant material and branches to climb.
Fresh air! Sunlight! Friends! — that’s Jungle Friends founder and president Kari Bagnall’s mantra. At last, the 26 “FDA boys” had all of these.
Gregory, above all the others, has reveled in his new life. He was the first of the 26 monkeys to go outdoors when given the opportunity — and he continues to display the strongest “almost wild” instincts, enjoying long hours in his outdoor enclosure climbing branches and foraging for insects.
Gregory also stands out in his social skills. He shares his Jungle Friends enclosure with another former FDA boy named Linny — one of the few pairings in which there has never been a fight. With humans, too, Gregory shows exceptional diplomacy — always pausing to make eye contact with his caregivers before accepting a treat.
Now age eight and with a life expectancy of 20+ years, Gregory will likely enjoy many more years of Florida fresh air and sunlight with his fellow Jungle Friends residents — an amazing journey from the forced lab cage isolation and nicotine addiction of his youth.
Back in Washington D.C., White Coat Waste is working to ensure that many more monkeys and other lab animals can enjoy a retirement like Gregory’s. The bipartisan AFTER Act, requiring federal agencies to enact policies allowing retirement of dogs, cats, primates and other animals no longer needed in taxpayer-funded experimentation, currently has 63 co-sponsors in the U.S. House and ten co-sponsors in the Senate. Meanwhile, the FDA was the latest agency to enact a lab animal retirement policy, following the National Institutes of Health and Department of Veterans Affairs. White Coat Waste is now pressing for agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture to enact similar policies — and the Greg Fund continues to support this effort.
Related blog post: We Gave Gregory a New Life! (December 7, 2018)
Photos courtesy of Julie Germany, Brianna Fried, White Coat Waste Project and Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary.