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Montana State University received a citation from a federal oversight agency for its handling of a monkey in one of its research labs.

After an inspection in February, the United States Department of Agriculture issued a non-critical citation for an incident in October 2020 that resulted in an injured monkey.

An animal welfare group is urging the USDA to upgrade the incident to a critical citation violating the Animal Welfare Act, which comes with a $10,000 fine.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the USDA, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, or SAEN, said the citation issued to MSU was insufficient. The federal agency classifies as a critical citation as one that has a serious or severe adverse effect on an animal.

“Since this animal was injured severely enough to have required veterinary treatment, it is clear that this incident had a ‘serious or severe adverse effect on the health and well-being of the animal,’” SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie wrote.

SAEN is a national animal welfare group focused on research laboratories. The group has filed similar complaints with the USDA against Texas Tech and the University of Washington in recent years.

MSU spokesperson Michael Becker said the university cooperated fully with the USDA inspection in February. He said before the inspection the university had implemented corrective actions through its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

“MSU takes this responsibility very seriously, and we respond promptly to any incidents in our laboratories and research facilities,” Becker said. “… We support and appreciate the reporting of adverse incidents as it helps the university identify and fix problems, improving the program as a whole.”

The incident, which occurred on Oct. 6, 2020, involved a larger male macaque monkey that was able to access the enclosure of a smaller male macaque monkey. The smaller male was injured.

“The technician was attempting to dislodge a toy stuck in a mechanism and was distracted from noting the macaque breaching the divider,” the USDA report from Feb. 23 states. “The larger male attacked the smaller one, but was quickly separated by replacing the divider.”

The injured monkey was sedated, treated for his wounds and given antibiotics, according to the incident report.

The USDA inspection report said the facility needs to have enough trained employees to ensure the safety of non-human primates while performing tasks.

The report concludes, “This was corrected prior to the time of inspection by reviewing and revising procedures and retraining personnel, ensuring they know to communicate to others if there is a situation that may distract them while performing their duties so it can be appropriately addressed.”

Budkie said MSU “has a history of these types of incidents,” citing an official warning issued by the USDA to the university in 2016.

Other facilities, like the University of Wisconsin, have received a critical citation for instances similar to the one at MSU, Budkie said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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